Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean
Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Communication: Small Formats Can Have a
Communication remains a prisoner of the Military-Industrial Complex and
the Disinformation Industry.
Advances in communication resources are not the result of love for life or science. The real engine of most communication formats in the Military-Industrial Complex, where life, as a value, takes a back seat to death, conquest, domination and exploitation. This happened in the case of photography and the cinema, radio, television, video, computer networks such as the Internet and Internet 2, and email.
Inspired by the mandate of its 1948 Constitution, the World Health Organization (WHO) strives to ensure that peoples enjoy the highest possible level of health through better information, education, nutrition, immunization and other preventive activities. These actions and messages, however, are contradicted by those of an industry that views even life-saving drugs as a business and promotes self-medication with the complicity of certain sectoral authorities and almost all the mass media.
According to the CNN news network, a study carried out in the United States and published by British medical review The Lancet revealed that drinking an extra carbonated soft drink per day increases by 60% the risk of children becoming obese. Another study by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest showed that consuming these soft drinks increases the risk among teenagers of suffering from osteoporosis, dental cavities, and other diseases.
In opposition to public health in Central America, almost all the mass media promote war and harmful products such as tobacco, alcohol, and greasy junk food.
Many journalists and public authorities such as legislators, magistrates, ministers and mayors, are servile public consumers of these products and will defend them, particularly when there are cases of contamination or other public health issues.
We need a multidimensional definition of communication to free it from its current shackles and find out which formats are best suited to reducing poverty, racism, ignorance and war mongering, by giving priority to intangible community capital as the key criterion for safeguarding life and freedom, education and knowledge, health, citizenship, and prevention.
When UNESCOs Regional Communications Office for Latin America organized in 1995 the Quito International Seminar on Population and Natural Disasters: the Role of Communication, it made a modest but visionary contribution to the systematic application of public information and educational communication for disaster reduction, integrating both large and small formats in the projects designed for the most disaster-prone countries in the region.
Alejandro Alfonzo, later head of this Office in Panama, promoted a great deal of the responses offered by UNESCO after each major disaster.
In physical, chemical, biological and genetic terms, communication is the basic mechanism of life. This holistic view of the processes than maintain the chain of life on earth, the biosphere, sees communication as capital, as the common heritage of all living beings.
In social, cultural, symbolic and relational terms, communication is the basic component of the cultural matrix of a society of knowledge, and it is needed for the full exercise of human rights, freedom, justice, equity and solidarity in democracy. It cuts across the formal and informal learning process and the construction of citizenship, and is fundamental to peaceful coexistence. It can convey needs and contribute to their satisfaction. Communication is a right, a good, and a social need, culturally appropriate for responding to disturbances such as natural hazards, technological disasters and armed conflicts, and a key component of sustainable development.
We are witnessing the arrival of a generation unlike any other, one that thanks to email is reverting the old trends in writing and reading, in which even those who were able to read were essentially consumers of information. This new generation is in the daily habit of reading and writing with a frequency unknown to their predecessors, with the exception of professional writers and media workers.
This new way of reading and writing has had a significant, although as yet unmeasured, impact that already overwhelms the resources, knowledge and patience of their teachers. If we all help, the first email generation may be able to learn how to think, and how to think better.
In Latin America, according to a UNICEF study, young people believe they are mistreated by the police, question the integrity of judges, and do not trust television or the press. It is ironic, then, that it should be these media that are used when trying to convey prevention messages. Meanwhile, when disaster strikes, people manage to communicate and express their needs without having access to commercial broadcasters or the pages of large newspapers.
An excellent example, given its conclusive results, is the OAS Program for Flood Vulnerability Reduction and the Development of Early Warning Systems in Small River Basins, which uses the slogan Better Safe than Sorry! Ordinary people understand quite well what it means to be sorry, and the use of a common saying helps to drive home this preventive message.
What often still fails, however, is the choice of the proper channel. It is important to make sure that the media employed do reach the intended audience, that the message is understood, and that the right response is the result.
Take the humble poster. I have seen posters from several countries in Central America and South America that warn about the consequences of a major earthquake. They were large, colorful, and highly visible. They might have been improved, say by using images that would convey the message even to those who cannot read, but they are clearly a useful medium for prevention messages.
Existing official channels, though not ordinarily viewed as media, can also be effective. The Ministry of Education can organize a national prevention campaign involving all primary and secondary students and teachers. Since not all children in Latin America go to school, it could be arranged for each student to work with a child who does not enjoy formal schooling. As part of such an effort, special education institutions can play a key role by multiplying the number of people who can use sign language or know how to deal with the blind and others who, on top of their disabilities, must endure the ignorance and incomprehension of normal people.
From this perspective, even small formats such as mime, street theatre and even puppetry can be used effectively. The same goes for pop songs, radio soap operas, even graffiti. All that is needed is creativity, imagination, and appealing to all forms of intelligence, as well as to humour and tenderness.
One good example is CAREs message: At CARE, we are changing the face of the world. How many lives can you change today?. Others include announcements by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), most of the PAHO/WHO messages during the 2000 hurricane season, and the campaign by the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) in the Discovery Channel warning parents of the dangers of unsupervised TV watching: Children do not always know what they are watching. That is why you should know it.
The effectiveness of such messages is underlined, ironically, by their appropriation and distortion by commercial interests.
We must counter the purely economic criterion of the Gross Domestic Product with the more enlightened concept of the Intelligent National Product, even the Intelligent Regional Product. To err is human, perhaps, but public information and educational communication can show us that doing the right thing is also human. Communication can be a useful tool for disaster reduction, bringing together governments, civil society, and all those who wish to promote positive change and greater equity. All that is required is that no communications format, however humble, be excluded as part of this effort.
Vicente Brunetti is
an international researcher and consultant on Communication and Education
specializing in Public Information and Educational Communication Strategies
and Projects. For more information, please contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
recall how and why macro- and microphotography, high-speed film, infra-red
night-vision lenses and high-sensibility film all developed.