Radio Free Asia’s Water Project Utilizes Citizen Journalism, Investigative Resources to Stress Crisis

Two boys wait as their mother carries water from a pond in central Burma where villagers must fetch water for all uses themselves. October 2012. [Photo credit: RFA/Tyler Chapman]WASHINGTON, DC – As the global community marks World Water Day, Radio Free Asia (RFA) focuses coverage and multimedia content on the state of freshwater sources and its availability in RFA broadcast countries. Coordinating efforts among its nine language services and using direct input from listeners, RFA, through The Water Project, aims to raise awareness among its audience and provide an accurate picture of the situation for governments, NGOs, and international humanitarian groups and foundations.

“For many of Radio Free Asia’s listeners, fresh, clean drinking water is simply out of reach,” said Libby Liu, RFA President. “Lacking access to this vital resource spells disaster in the forms of catastrophic health threats and widespread, lasting poverty.

“We hope our coverage, which harnesses the power of both our own team of reporters and citizen journalism, sparks discussion and greater attention to this crisis impacting millions in Asia.”

Despite U.N. Millennium Development goals to improve access to safe drinking water around the world, most of RFA’s listeners live in places where obtaining clean water remains a struggle. In Cambodia, arsenic contamination is pervasive in its groundwater accessed by wells; in Laos, water sanitation is rare; in China, about 90 percent of cities’ underground water is reported to be seriously polluted; and in North Korea, about a quarter of children under age 5 die of dysentery due to a lack of clean water. As the situation nears crisis level, some of its causes are revealed: global warming, water-intensive agriculture, and explosive population growth, but also large-scale mismanagement. Many governments in RFA broadcast countries use water as a weapon, allowing rivers and lakes to be polluted and drained to displace unwanted local residents while seizing land for their own purposes.

RFA is now collecting our language services’ coverage onto one English language hub Web page, launching a series of slideshows documenting the issue in our countries, and producing videos on water scarcity affecting farmers, fishermen, and ordinary people, as well as an animated promotional video illustrating the issue among our wider audience. In April, the project will launch a mobile app for citizens to photograph and chart water issues pertaining to the state of local fresh water sources upon which villages, towns, and communities depend. Interviews with experts will also be made available on the hub page. In addition, a series of investigative videos of original content will be unveiled this spring.


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Radio Free Asia is a private, nonprofit corporation broadcasting and publishing online news, information, and commentary in nine East Asian languages to listeners who do not have access to full and free news media.  RFA’s broadcasts seek to promote the rights of freedom of opinion and expression, including the freedom to “seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” RFA is funded by an annual grant from the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

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