COMMUNICATION STRATERGY Public Awareness Campaign For Disaster Risk Reduction, Response Action & Early Warning In Maldives

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“On a rainy night, a little boy was crying. His mother kept him outside the house. After a while someone came to borrow the hunigendi, for scraping coconut, the mother without opening the door said, “It is standing next to the house wall, so take it. The person took the boy and walked him through the Mashigando. At times the boy was neck deep in water…. the song continues to tell of the places the child saw that night. At dawn the person, who is actually a “ferithaa”, a non- human spirit, returned the child back to his home. The fereithaa asked for a gift in return, and the boy gave the fereithaa one of his eyes.”

The Huvadhoo atoll Athelveshi  as narrated by Dhon Aisaage Saudiyya & her husband Nooh

INTRODUCTION

This Post outlines the social marketing plan for public awareness campaign for disaster risk reduction, response action, mitigation & early warning in the Maldives. The objective was to design a campaign to enable the population of Maldives to be informed, knowledgeable, and aware of the hazards they face and vulnerabilities that exists within their own community, to enable them to utilize resources, which are accessible to them, to prepare, respond and recover from natural disasters, personally and as a community.

Initially research was conducted in an attempt to explore people’s current attitudes and perception towards disaster risk, within a regional context, as well to identify the communication gaps that exist between scientific fact & behavioral best practice. In conjunction with Secondary research which helped us identify avenues to rejuvenate locally embedded knowledge systems and capacities, to mitigate, respond & recover from natural disasters in the Maldives, marketing plan was designed to alleviate these communication gaps as well as enable the public to actively participate in every aspect of disaster management.

The Social marketing plan was designed with the support, collaboration and valuable input from the workgroup which comprised of personnel from UNDP, National Disaster Management Center, Maldives Meteorological Service, and Communication Authority of Maldives, Ministry of Tourism, Art & Culture, Ministry of Education, and Maldives Red Crescent.

RESEARCH FINDINGS

The research conducted was more exploratory rather than representative study of community perceptions of risk towards hazards and disasters in the Maldives. Nevertheless, the data yield through the research provided a rich view into the values and norms held by Maldivians to their land, and the ways in which these value-constructs shape their perception of risk.

The research highlighted that  communities are unaware of hazards which affect their communities specifically, and have a more general view of what causes disaster, which might not hold much relevance to their community. The findings revealed that with the exception of a few islands, people surveyed generally had no distinctive sense of identification on an island level, but more so in a national level. This meant that, communities are less aware of the distinctive physical and social vulnerabilities and strength, their island community has, in relation to how much these factors influence the severity and frequency of disaster that could occur. The study seems to highlight that perceptions of risk towards hazards and disasters are based upon subjective norms of place and space, as well as media preoccupation with certain hazards, i.e. tsunami and Sea-level rise. This has meant that more frequent hazards like Udha, rainfall, which affect majority of islands, are not perceived as major hazards, although the evidence show that they cause a lot of damage.

Despite the diversity of islands studied, the commonality of social values binds these places together. The study has shown that irrespective of geography or physical features of islands, communities perceive risk in their own terms that are influenced more by social networks of trust founded on family, kinship and community ties rather than size, space or built environment.

The research also showed that majority of the population, regardless of education, sex or age population presented in the findings hold a high regard for self-responsibility with regard to seeking and gaining knowledge on hazards and disasters, but also felt that the Government should play an active role in assisting communities. The latter point is less so for younger generations who felt that Governments should not have to play a central role in disseminating information.

Although the findings did show the significance of age in determining subjective notions of individual knowledge and capacities with regard to hazards and disasters. It was evident from the findings that younger age groups (below 19) and older age group take a more rational point of view regarding the causes and occurrence of Natural hazards. This is evident in the fact that young age group and older age group perceived the thesis that hazards could be predicted and are due to man made influences  more so than the middle age groups, who seem more skeptical.

The findings also confirmed the shortcomings of current policies in educating individuals about the risks and preparatory measures required to act in the face of a hazard and disaster. More importantly, the study revealed that communities are more proactive actors in society, composed of individuals ready to learn and be prepared for the unforeseen rather than passive and dependent observers. These reinforce the need to provide information and knowledge to communities in a sustainable manner, and in a way that integrates indigenous knowledge with scientific knowledge.

In conclusion the population could be perceived as being very passive, submissive in regards to how they seek knowledge, prepare, respond and recover from disasters. Although their is lack of trust in regards to public institutions, they seem to rely heavily on these resources during & after such events. It should be also recognized that currently public has very little regards or understanding in relation to their own capacity as individuals, and as a community to manage and prepare for Disasters.

COMMUNICATION STRATEGY DEVELOPMENT

With the traditional communication model, an all-encompassing message regarding natural disaster mitigation, response action and recovery is communicated via strategic mediums to an identified target group, to enable a positive behavioral change. The problem with such a model is the assumption that the target audience are segmented in terms of demographic profiles rather than, in relation to the specific hazards and vulnerabilities they are exposed to. Secondly it also presumes that the message should fit all, regardless of their location, which is unrealistic considering natural disasters are geographically island specific. (shown in figure 1&2).

Figure 1: Traditional communication model

The traditional communication model is top down, paternalistic model, where the message is devised at the top and transferred one-way information system to an audience at the bottom which is segmented based primarily on demographic and psychographic profile. This means the target groups are treated as victims, highly dependent on external source for information and advice on what to do.

Maldives is comprised of highly dispersed and isolated groups of island communities with each island community experiencing a very specific natural and physical landscapes and hazard exposures. This means that the target groups have to be primarily based on specific island communities, rather than demographic profiles on a national scale.  Within the context of natural disaster, each community is a distinctive target, as it comprise of group of interacting individuals and households living in same location and having the same hazard exposure and sharing the same physical and social vulnerability. If disaster risk is calculated on the basis of type, severity and frequency of hazard, in addition to the physical and social vulnerabilities, than each island community will have a unique disaster risk profile, as illustrated in figure 3.

Figure 2: Community risk model

The figure shows that each community has its own unique risk profile, based on its unique hazard exposure and vulnerabilities. Hence each community is a primarily a target group.

The fact that each community experience and perceive disaster risk very differently , means that a top-down model as proposed in the traditional communication model is ineffective, and costly.  It is therefore important to empower the individuals and communities to participate and become active in disaster risk reduction. It is necessary for communities to become more knowledgeable, about preparation, mitigation, response action and recovery at an island level and capture and share these knowledge in a continual as well as systematic and effective manner.

“The goal should be to create communities that are aware of their need to be know and so they naturally generate and share knowledge about natural disaster risk management, not to develop a dependence where it is expected that an external or expert group will always undertake this role.”

Tom Beer (IUGG Commission on Geophysical Risk & Sustainability) and Robert Hamilton (ICSU Committee on Disaster Reduction) Natural Disaster Reduction Safer Sustainable Communities: Making Better Decisions about Risk,

Thus a new communication model is required, which empowers the communities, so that the individuals within the communities perceive themselves as active partners and participators in disaster management rather than passive and dependent victims. (see figure 4).

“the use of the concept of capacity emerged in response to the negativity of the term vulnerability: to speak of people as being vulnerable was to treat them as passive victims and ignore the many capacities, resources and assets people posses to resist, cope with and recover from disaster shock they experience”

Ian Davis, Bruno Haghebaert, David Peppiatt, prevention project: tools for community risk assessment & action planning, 2004, Geneva

To empower individuals and resources that make up a community, it is important for them to perceive themselves and the physical spaces within it, as capacities rather than vulnerabilities, in order they can build collective self confidence to resist and cope with disasters. As natural hazards are not within our scope to control, to reduce disaster risk, we need to transform vulnerabilities into capacities, in order to reduce disaster risk, as illustrated in figure 5.

Figure 4: Bottom-up approach: The figure shows bottom up approach, which is about empowering the community and giving them a voice, rather than top-down model, where the message is from an external source.

This would mean the model should acknowledge & incorporate the fact that community doesn’t just, share hazards and vulnerabilities, but also share capacity and strengths. Thus, in a participatory model it is important to acknowledge community’s strengths and capabilities and not just its vulnerability and exposure to hazards and disasters.

“the use of the concept of capacity emerged in response to the negativity of the term vulnerability: to speak of people as being vulnerable was to treat them as passive victims and ignore the many capacities, resources and assets people posses to resist, cope with and recover from disaster shock they experience”

Ian Davis, Bruno Haghebaert, David Peppiatt, prevention project: tools for community risk assessment & action planning, 2004, Geneva

To empower individuals and resources that make up a community, it is important for them to perceive themselves and the physical spaces within it, as capacities rather than vulnerabilities, in order they can build collective self confidence to resist and cope with disasters. As natural hazards are not within our scope to control, to reduce disaster risk, we need to transform vulnerabilities into capacities, in order to reduce disaster risk, as illustrated in figure 5.

Figure 5: Transformation from vulnerabilities to capacities Figure 5a, shows how social & physical vulnerabilities create disaster risk, while hazard remains constant factor Figure 5b, shows how replacing or transforming the current physical and social vulnerabilities within a community can reduce the disaster risk.

In conclusion the new communication model should take into account first and foremost that the initial segmentation should be based on individual island communities, rather than conventional demographic profiles on a national scale, because the risks are specific and unique to each island. Secondly the communication should be participatory rather than paternal, i.e. bottom-up approach instead of a top-down approach, in order to create better acceptance of the plan, and sustain the effort to mitigate, respond and recover from natural disasters, without reliance on external institutions.

Figure 6: The development of the new communication model The figure shows the new communication model, which is where community capacity groups are given the “voice”, rather than an external communication source, from the top.

The most effective method to reduce the risk of natural disasters that community’s experience, is to perceptually and literally transform the vulnerabilities within the communities into capacities (includes physical, & social resources, as well as indigenous knowledge). In other words helping the target audience or victims to help themselves, by taking on the dual role of victim and the capacity, (figure 7).

Figure 7: The target audiences are the capacities The figure shows the dual role of the target audience as capacities as well as the victims of natural disasters. Hence by empowering, strengthening and enhancing the capacities of the population who will be directly at risk, it is possible to enable the victims themselves to mitigate, respond and recover from natural disasters.

The new communication model, as illustrated below (figure 8), will thus facilitates the target audience, i.e. the community, to be self reliant (figure 8a), culturally autonomous (figure 8b), and networked (figure 8c), during every stage of disaster management. Thus establishing nationwide capacity infrastructure that can be utilized for disaster management, at local, regional and national level.

Figure 8a: New Communication strategy development model – Self-reliance As the target audience and the capacities are the same publics and physical infrastructure performing dual roles, the communities are self-reliant, to mitigate, respond, and recover from natural disasters.

Figure 8b: New Communication strategy development model – culturally autonomous. Each community is independent and as cultural as well as administrative autonomous an independent. This enables the communities to identify and resolve issues related to disaster management within the community, using information, knowledge and resources available to them. Cultural autonomy is essential to create acceptance & social solidarity
so that they become responsible and motivated, to mitigate, respond and recover from natural disasters on their
own terms.

Figure 8c: New Communication strategy development model – networked. The different capacities within each communities will have common ground, and purpose to interact, share & collaborate, for the purpose of enhancing capacities and knowledge regarding disaster mitigation, response action, and recovery, at a national level.

 

COMMUNICATION

Taking into consideration the above described communication model, the overall objective of the communication campaign should be to facilitate the population of Maldives to be more informed, knowledgeable and aware of the hazards they face and the vulnerabilities that exists within distinctive communities they inhabit, to enable them to identify & utilize resources and capacities which are accessible to them, to mitigate, respond and recover from natural disaster, personally and as community. The way to achieve the overall objective is:

“To empower the community & the individual to strengthen and enhance
their own capacity to mitigate, respond and recover from natural disasters”

To achieve the communication strategy as outlined a communication plan is developed to coordinate and integrate the communication tools that would be developed as part of the overall campaign, in to a seamless program that would maximize the impact on target audience.

The communication plan will have 3 distinctive linear phases, with very specific objectives, working towards creating a social and physical capacity infrastructure at a national level.

Figure 9: The communication plan development The model shows how the communication plan was conceived, based on the Communication Strategy into 3 distinctive coordinated and integrated phases.

Each phase within the overall communication plan will have a very specific objective, culminating in a behavioral change amongst the affected public, transforming them from passive victims as they are now, to a networked and integrated capacity groups, who can actively participate in the mitigation, response action, and recovery from natural disasters. Within each phase there will be distinctive components or stages, which will work towards realizing the specific objectives of that particular phase, consolidated as a whole towards achieving the communication strategy (see figure 10).

 

To enable the communication strategy to be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the overall objective, certain communication criteria’s or conditions are defined. These criterion will enable the all communication mediums developed as part of the communication plan to acquire a consistent identity, have relevance to the target audience & withhold the integrity of the overall campaign. All communications in relation to the campaign should encompass part of, or preferably the whole of these criterions. They hence, set the tone and identity of the overall campaign, and will guide the development and design of the communication mediums which will become part of the communication plan.

• Educational Information presented within the medium should be designed in a manner that is
comprehensible and educationally beneficial to the target public

• Interactive or Collaborative The communication mediums should facilitate active participation by target publics
to interact with each other, different groups within the community, as well as
the medium itself.

• Useful & Durability The communication medium should motivate the target publics to be highly involved,
and allow what is communicated to have long term and continual benefit,
educationally, physically or emotionally.

• Personal & Regional What is communicated should be personally beneficial to the individual within the
targeted groups, and it should have regionally specific relevance.

• Use indigenous knowledge in correlation with scientific knowledge The communication medium should utilise knowledge and capacities indigenous to the people who the communication is targeted towards.

• Bring together the most vulnerable groups within the community The communication mediums should involve and coordinate integration between the old age groups and the younger age groups, in an effort to share knowledge and develop capacity.

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