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

Partners in Action


Innovative Communication Practices Convey Disaster Reduction Message to Central American Communities

It does not take a scientific survey to know that in the last decade the field of social communication has focused primarily on the potential of virtual information channels such as email, the Web, online databases and the like, particularly in the business, scientific, and education sectors.

Organizations working in the field of disaster reduction have not been exempt from this trend. And it certainly cannot be doubted that the new digital media have contributed to a greater dissemination and understanding of disaster-related concepts, events and efforts.

However, embracing such media because they have a global reach—or because they eliminate printing and postage costs and delays, or for any other reason—may make us forget that their public is actually quite limited: for instance, only about 6% of the population in Mexico and Central America. More to the point, it is all but unavailable in rural communities with little economic and educational development that are often most at risk from natural disasters.

Are our messages reaching the population at risk?

The catastrophic events of recent years in the region—such as the impact of Hurricane Mitch on Central America—have made it imperative to reduce local vulnerability. This calls for local communities and authorities to become involved in the risk management process, which in turn will not happen without effective social and educational communication strategies aimed at the inhabitants of vulnerable communities.

In such circumstances, the tendency to be dazzled by the potential of cyberspace should not distract us from the urgency of exploring new social communication approaches at the local level. Those who coordinate disaster prevention and relief efforts, as well as those who study such efforts, must consider new social communication practices that—by the content and language of their messages, as well as by the media through which they are disseminated—match the living conditions and the perceptions of the population at risk. These strategies must take into account the current communication theories regarding “ego-involvement”, which stipulate that messages that do not match the cultural reality of the audience will not generate changes in opinions, attitudes and behaviour.

There is, however, no need to remain at the theoretical level. The following activities implemented by the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) in Central America are significant examples of how new approaches to disaster-related social communication can work at the local level.

1. Innovative social communication strategies at the local level in Central America: the experience of PAHO

Within the framework of the Central American Project for Vulnerability Reduction in the Countries Affected by Hurricane Mitch, which is sponsored by SIDA and the UK Department for International Development (DFID), PAHO has developed innovative communication strategies at the local level. The following are a few examples:

1.1. The creation of local social-communication and disaster networks

In pilot communities in Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, persons were chosen to be a part of a local social-communication and disasters network, and provided with knowledge and training. At present, each group has developed its own communication strategy, leading in the coming months to radio spots, flipcharts, and press releases, among other messages.

1.2. Radio Drama for Community

In collaboration with the International Migrations Organization and the ISDR, and with the support of CEPREDENAC (in the framework of the Five-Year-Plan for Vulnerability and Disaster Reductions), PAHO is producing a radio drama on the floods caused by hurricanes. The drama, tells what happens before, during, and after the emergency in four communities with different degrees of preparedness. In recognition of the conventions of the genre, the drama tries to downplay its didactic contents by creating characters that the audience can identify with, sharing in the lessons learned.

1.3. Float Parade in Moyogalpa, Nicaragua, and the Celebration of the International Day for Natural disaster Reduction

When the community of Moyogalpa in Nicaragua decided to celebrate for the first time Municipal Disaster reduction Day, it organized a parade with the involvement of the local government and many local organizations, as well as the population in general, who designed colourful floats on various aspects disaster reduction, the best of which received awards that will go towards prevention activities.

These are but a few examples that illustrate how it is possible to go beyond traditional media formats and still convey striking and memorable messages at the local level. Without disregarding the production of digital material, enough resources and planning must be assigned to the development of appropriate communication strategies such as these.

For more information on the Mitch project, please visit or contact the Subregional Office of PAHO’s Emergency and Disaster Program, San José, Costa Rica, Apdo. Postal 3745-1000, San José C.R., tel. +506 255 1962, fax +506 257 2139.