In 2017, the ongoing drought in Somalia worsened the country’s political and socio-economic fragility. The severe drought was the result of two consecutive seasons of poor rainfall. Over 6.2 million people, half the population, needed humanitarian assistance. The worst-affected areas saw large-scale crop failures and high levels of livestock deaths. Malnutrition and drought-related diseases grew, and increasing numbers of people faced displacement and competition for resources such as water. (UNOCHA 2017). 4


BBC Media Action partnered with the UK Department for International Development and collaborated with Radio Ergo and the BBC Somali Service to implement a “Lifeline” radio programme, containing relevant, potentially life-saving information. This aimed to help meet several key humanitarian needs.

BBC Media Action and its two media partners broadcast a radio programme called Ogaal (Be Informed) aimed at helping Somalis cope with the ongoing drought. Ogaal was a 15-minute bulletin that was broadcast three times a week on the BBC Somali Service. BBC Media Action, the BBC Somali Service and Radio Ergo, each contributed 3–4 minutes of content for each programme. The programme was also shared on social media to reach support groups and young audiences.

Weekly programme segments:

  • BBC Media Action provided a Lifeline segment containing practical, life-saving information on the drought and how to cope. This included interviews with experts, representatives from humanitarian organisations and government agencies, and stories from drought-affected individuals and communities.
  • Radio Ergo supplied human interest stories from across Somalia on the severity of the drought and its impact on local communities.
  • The BBC Somali Service provided weekly interviews with government officials and humanitarian actors on their drought interventions.


The programme’s overall aim was to make audience members feel more able to cope with the drought-related emergency by increasing people’s:

  • Access to timely, reliable and accurate information on how to cope with the effects of drought, with a focus on nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene and maternal and child health
  • Understanding of how to cope with the effects of drought, including how to access humanitarian services and what to do in the absence of support
  • Motivation, confidence and ability to take life-saving measures, including accessing humanitarian services or taking practical action.


BBC Media Action conducted rapid research to inform the radio programme. This involved holding focus group discussions with target beneficiaries and influencers, including pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, and carers or fathers of children under five. It also included telephone interviews with representatives from aid agencies.

Several months later, a qualitative evaluation involved focus groups with target beneficiaries and influencers who had listened to the programme, and in-depth interviews with health workers and aid agency staff working on the ground. BBC Media Action also held telephone interviews with humanitarian agency staff to gather their views on Ogaal’s impact. The evaluative research was based on Ogaal as a whole, rather than specific segments.




Ogaal was broadcast on the BBC Somali Service, which BBC Media Action considered the most suitable platform. In 2015, this service had a weekly reach of 1.7million, representing 44% of people in Somalia aged 15 and above.5

During formative research for the programme, some people displaced by the drought lost or had limited access to radios. In response, BBC Media Action organised listening groups with interactive discussions in Xudur in South Central Somalia, Ainabo in Somaliland, and Galkaiyo in Puntland.

The evaluation found that people who listened to the programme often did so on other people’s radios. They also discussed the programme with other people, helping to spread the information from the programme with other community members.

5 BBC World Service (2015) Somalia Country Report 2015. Published by BBC Marketing Audiences.


Focus group participants liked the topics covered by the programme, including education, diseases and vaccination, sanitation, child nutrition and maternal health. They also liked the health-focused “learn and be safe” section of the programme.

Participants especially liked hearing from people who had been affected by the drought, and displaced people. This included interviews with a young girl who lived in a camp in Muqdisho and wanted to be a teacher, and with a herdsman who learned to survive as a farmer.

The thing that I liked was the story of the man who was herdsman but now has camels, and even when there is no livestock, he knows how to be a farmer.


Participant in focus group for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, Muqdisho, South Central, Somalia


Research participants trusted the information in Ogaal, as they felt the programme discussed current issues and included recognisable information sources, such as interviews with representatives from the government, aid agencies and people affected by the drought.

The programme’s presenters helped to build this trust. Listeners mentioned liking the reporters and presenters, and that they were professional, well trained and easy to understand.


Knowledge and discussion
Ogaal listeners reported learning about a range of topics from the programme, such as water and food security, hygiene and sanitation, mother and child health, and economic security.

This included hygiene and sanitation knowledge such as handwashing after going to the toilet, burying stools, and how poor sanitation can cause diarrhoea. Listeners also learned about mother and child health issues such as the importance of vaccinations and common health concerns such as measles, malaria and malnutrition.

While some listeners had previously heard about these topics, for others this was new information.

The information that was new to me was about food and nutrition for the babies when they are the age of eating food.

Participant in focus group for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, Muqdisho, South Central, Somalia

 The information that was new to me was about those farmers who have borrowed money to have a farm and after harvesting they can start returning their loan step by step.

Participant in focus group for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, Muqdisho, South Central, Somalia

Motivation and actions

Listeners reported that the programme had encouraged them to take some action to improve their situation. Examples included practising better sanitation, vaccinating their children and being encouraged to earn money through harvesting, rock breaking and gathering wood.

I also encouraged them to use chloride to clean water and wait for a few minutes, and also the children shouldn’t use open fields when they have to poop but use toilets instead.


Participant in focus group for mothers and grandmothers, Xuddur, South Central, Somalia


I didn’t know anything, I was someone being staying at home then I heard from Ogaal that disabled people (are) working and I started employment washing clothes. The day I washed clothes I used to get [and earned] 100shs I felt precious. The children’s father started began stone breaking, and my younger son is [now] a shoe cleaner.


Participant in focus group for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers Xuddur, Bakool, South Central, Somalia

Connecting people and giving them a voice

Hearing from other people affected by the drought seemed to encourage listeners to support other people. Listeners said that the programme gave them the confidence to help others, for example by giving them food, or encouraging them to practise better hygiene such as keeping the compound toilets clean.

It encouraged me to go to other people … and discuss drought issues to help all the people in the area.

Participant in focus group for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, Muqdisho, South Central, Somalia

A senior aid worker said that the programme was particularly effective in motivating listeners to support displaced people.


Local aid agency staff reported that Ogaal helped people to cope emotionally with the drought emergency. Explaining how the drought affected different regions of Somalia, and how people were responding to the problem helped listeners to feel supported and that they were not alone. Listeners also reported that the programme helped them to better understand the drought, which made them worry less.

4 UN OCHA (2017). In the worst affected areas, large-scale crop failure and high levels of livestock deaths are occurring. Malnutrition and drought-related diseases are on the rise, so are displacements, including to Ethiopia.