International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean   

Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Issue: 13/2006- 12/2006 - 11/2005 - 10/2005 - 9/2004 - 8/2003 - 7/2003 - 6/2002 - 5/2002 - 4/2001- 3/2001



Creative Education: A Priority for a New Generation

The next few years represent a very special challenge for our world. Facing problems such as ongoing conflicts between countries and ethnic groups, environmental degradation, resource mismanagement, and poverty will require great effort and creativity. That is, of course, if humankind wishes to overcome a situation of great suffering that may indeed prove unsustainable in the long run. In many places, the relationship between humans and their ecological and social environments, requires a profound change if we hope to achieve sustainable development and reduce disaster risks. Risk reduction is not an isolated act; it is very much linked to our attitudes towards ourselves and others, to our sense of civic-mindedness as a society, to our social consciousness and to the ways in which we relate to everything around us. A society that is determined to seek effective and balanced models for disaster reduction also tends to be a society that will make progress in other sustainable development spheres.

oto: J. Jenkins PAHO/WHO

Education is frequently touted as the most important factor for achieving sustainable development, and is used as an important means for changing attitudes and behaviors vis-à-vis risk management. The Hyogo Framework for Action, which was adopted by 168 nations in January 2005, recognizes this and encourages governments and civil society to "use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels."

On June 15, 2006, in order to further the debate over the use of educational strategies as tools for risk reduction in the most diverse places of our planet, the ISDR and its partners launched the biennial campaign titled "Disaster Reduction Begins at School", at UNESCO's headquarters in Paris, France. The purpose of this campaign is to inform and mobilize governments, communities, and individuals to ensure that disaster risk reduction is mainstreamed into school curricula in countries at risk, and that school buildings are constructed to resist natural hazards. The campaign will last until the end of 2007, but will continue thereafter under the auspices of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.

Recently, the ISDR LAC regional unit and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) organized a working meeting titled “Identifying collaboration tools and mechanisms for the inclusion of disaster risk reduction management into the education sector in Latin America.” The meeting was held at UNICEF and UNDP headquarters in the City of Knowledge, Panama, on June 14-16, 2006, and was attended by more than 30 leading practitioners representing a variety of international organizations active in related educational initiatives. The primary goal of the meeting was to identify concrete actions in Latin America, including products, tools, and modalities for cooperation, in order to advance the integration of disaster risk management into the education sector. The emphasis was on primary education, guaranteeing the right of children to live in a safe environment, and ensuring access to education in emergency situations.

Since we know that education is one of the most pressing priorities, we must also recognize the amount of work that this important endeavor entails. Education is not an easy task and in order to alter attitudes, opinions and behavior, ongoing efforts are required, often for long periods of time. Single, short-term projects are not, and will not, be able to achieve this longer-term, more encompassing goal. Therefore, although the process may be slow, it is important to continue devoting effort towards affecting real and substantial change. Most people take quite some time in altering their perceptions and behaviors and in realizing that they can be active participants in affecting positive change for themselves and for their communities.

This happens not only in disaster prevention, but in many other areas as well. One good example is raising awareness that a healthy lifestyle leads to a higher quality of life. This may sound like common sense, but in reality, it took decades to develop healthy lifestyle campaigns that provided information effective enough to raise awareness among different sectors of the population and affect certain levels of societal changes.

In the field of risk reduction, large sectors of the population, including decision makers and politicians, are not aware of the importance of reducing disaster risks, nor do they know how to carry out actions and strategies for disaster risk prevention. For some, risk reduction is an issue that has little or no relevance. This perception is both ill-based and potentially harmful.

Generally, for us to become ‘aware’ of a particular issue — and to be subsequently change our behavior— certain conditions are required. On one hand, information must be available, accessible and meaningful, and on the other, it must also motivate people to process and analyze it, and take appropriate and timely action.

To be successful at raising awareness, we must also provide, relevant information, including realistic examples and experiential knowledge, which will help the recipients, our target groups, believe that this information and knowledge is indeed useful to them, and will likely work towards improving their quality of life. Furthermore, if the information transmitted is able to spark an internal process that makes recipients feel like it speaks to them, that it is applicable to some areas of their lives, or that it relates to one of their personal feelings or social values, then it will be much easier for this information, this experience, to create the ‘awareness’ we want people to have. Finally, it is appropriate to take into account there are numerous proven and innovative models designed for ensuring clarity in communication and evoking attitudinal change.

The following are some examples of activities that can be implemented to raise awareness about disaster prevention and risk management:

  • Generating and disseminating public and technical information, and ensuring that it is clear, interesting, accessible. Good information centers, large or small, can play a role in this task. Information products such as magazines and radio programs are also useful means for keeping the public informed and motivated.
  • Providing models, frameworks, lessons learned and cases available, in order to continue learning and reinforce the process of raising awareness.
  • Developing information and educational products that can be integrated into other activities. For example, the development of learning games that can be replicated at home or at school. These activities bring about useful knowledge, facilitate learning, and can be carried out in a pleasant environment.
  • Incorporating the understanding of prevention in primary school curricula, in order to ensure that children consider disaster prevention as a part of their daily lives. This is actually not so difficult to achieve. For example, geography and social science curricula can incorporate disaster risk reduction issues and examples that make the subject more enjoyable, add a relative cultural dimension, and educate children on how to reduce risks. This may be a long process, but it helps arm new generations with greater knowledge on the subject, thus empowering them as actors in reducing future disaster risk and impact.
  • Activities carried out with strong community participation are very useful endeavors. Preparing community emergency plans, creating risk maps, or developing resources with the help of community members are powerful motivating forces and tools for raising awareness.
  • Creating partnerships and focus groups with decision makers, politicians and technical experts is another mechanism used to raise awareness because it allows for
    the identification of common problems, as well as for the creation of support networks. To this end, there are the number of existing international or local institutional networks, training programs for specialists, and other activities, that promote the exchange of ideas, skills and knowledge.
  • Social communicating in a way that provides exposure to the subject matter, along with other related educational activities. In practice, however, reporting on risk reduction is not an easy task because it often requires prior training for journalists and structured information from specialized agencies.

It is important to remember that education is not static. At least, it should not be. It is not a passive relationship between the transmitter and recipient, but rather a dynamic process that, stimulates creative capacities thus yielding better results from which to provide future generations with a greater understanding of their environment and with the necessary motivation to build a more resilient society. The biennial campaign "Disaster Reduction Begins at School." marks an excellent starting point to think about new educational approaches and a wonderful opportunity to share experiences and learn from one another.