Summary of discussion at the 3rd International Conference on
Public Awareness as a Cornerstone of Disaster Risk Reduction and Sustainable Development
Media, Public Awareness and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction
December 15-16, 2015, Yerevan, Armenia
Introduction and background
The 3rd “Public Awareness as a cornerstone of disaster risk reduction and sustainable development” conference took place on 15-16 December 2015 in Yerevan. It has been organized since 2013. This year’s edition focused on the sub – theme “Media, Public Awareness and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction”. Ministry of Territorial Administration and Emergency Situations of RA, “Emergency Channel” Information Centre and UNISDR were organizers of the Conference.
The event was attended by governmental bodies, NGOs and international organizations (UNISDR, UNICEF, UNIDO, UNFPA, UNDPI, WHO, IOM, European Union, Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC) of NATO, USAID, World Bank, Asian Devolopment Bank, ''Save the children'', OXFAM, ICRC, Armenian Red Cross, FAO, OXIGEN), representatives from embassies and media, communication experts from Armenia and internationally, including Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, the Philippines, Senegal, Kuwait, Japan, Belarus, China, the USA and the United Kingdom.
The whole process of the conference can be followed online by the following link of the official website of the MTAES: http://mes.am/hy/news/item/2015/12/15/15.12.2015/.
An opening speech was made by the RA MTAES Rescue Service Deputy Director, National Program Coordinator of Sendai framework for action, r/s Lieutenant General Nikolay Grigoryan, who noted, that this year the traditional conference took place after the Sendai International Conference.
The RA MTAES First Deputy Minister Vache Terteryan welcomed the participants of the international conference on behalf of the Ministry and Minister Armen Yeritsyan:
- I hope, that the Yerevan conference will considerably contribute to the dissemination, popularization and implementation of ideas of both Hyogo and Sendai framework for action in Armenia and worldwide, as well as the involvement of all media and DRR players. The primary task of our country, being a survivor of Spitak earthquake, and subjected to natural, technological, epidemiological, environmental and military threats and dangers, is disaster risk reduction. We feel on our skin, what huge losses we have because of intensive and extensive disasters. In many developing countries, there still doesn’t exist effective disasters insurance system, and the so-called small, but frequently occurring disasters, its consequences have become a significant burden for both the state budget and the poor people.
Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, who first visited Armenia and specially arrived to participate in the conference, in her speech said:
- Thank you for organizing this meeting on public awareness and education in Yerevan which illustrates very persistent determination to put public awareness and education at the centre of the importance of reducing the impacts of disasters. So, for me it’s a great pleasure being here today. As the Deputy Minister has already highlighted the outcome of this working conference is intended to be the establishment of International Working Group in support of the implementation of Sendai Framework of DRR focusing on how to make the public education and awareness issues a much higher priority.
The practitioners know that awareness is the “first and last mile” of DRR. Very often you will hear that technologies are very important but what if there is no one, if I don’t understand the message and if I don’t act from the message? So let’s combine awareness and technologies. We need to learn every time more and more.
Sendai Program calls to focus on communication. When I ask people in communities if they can only say one thing that we must reinforce what public and private sectors say is communication, public awareness and education about risk. And I think that everyone must be a part of this.
The technical institutions that work for early warning often concerning that the warning and risk identification should come for an authorative source. Why do they said that? Because social media is quite active in identifying risky messages. And if they have license to question this? They can give an alternative information and this can create new risks. So, it’s a challenging territory we are moving in. Therefore, the understanding of disaster risk probably means to be broader and much more informed.
Understanding risks requires information. This is another key point in Sendai Program and not only in Sendai what we will find in other international and global policy instruments is the access and availability of risk information. That is not quite simple. Because we are talking about the information that will lead to action and therefore needs to be authorative and understandable process. Of course, accessibility is not about the shortage of information. It is a case but much more often there is too much information. So how to navigate in this territory of knowledge and information? This is the key issue.
The Head of the EU Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Piotr Antoni Świtalski, was involved in opening the conference:
- Many types of natural disaster characterise the South Caucasus region. I visited Gyumri two weeks ago and saw how people are still living in temporary housing, many many years after the earthquake, which was very sad. I am here to confirm the EU’s commitment to disaster risk reduction. We are trying to do our best here in the region. Two weeks ago we were at the closing event of the DIPECHO programme’s Phase 3; I saw how many activities had been carried out. I hope very much that we will move on to Phase 4 of DIPECHO. There is also another Eastern Partnership programme for disaster preparedness which we are implementing, which promotes civil protection preparedness in the region. We all agree how media are important for education – we don’t have to pursue the media to simply cover disasters when they happen. It is extremely important to involve media in the education process and preparation.
“Information and communication are among the essential components of disaster risk reduction,” Ms. Tania Radocaj, acting UN Resident Coordinator in Armenia, told the 3rd International Conference on Public Awareness as a Cornerstone of Disaster Risk Reduction and Sustainable Development.
During the conference a TV debate on the topic “Communicating Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR): Challenges and Solutions” was held. The discussion was attended by the representatives of local and international media agencies, journalists and DRR experts from Africa, Colombia, the Philippines, England and other countries.
“Several of our traditional assumptions have to be changed,” said Margareta Wahlström. Media participants said that raising awareness within their industry itself is also essential.In a wide-ranging debate on the challenges and solutions of communicating about disaster risk – including how to overcome the “if it bleeds, it leads” editorial approach – disaster risk experts said they understood the need to pitch messages in a fast-changing world.
David Owino, journalist from DIRAJ, Kenia said it is necessary that now when we have new information, now that we have scientific information that can be used to create a new bridge to communicate us, create to give communities new knowledge that they can rely on. It is necessary and of course we are doing all that we can ensure that we influence or change our agenda in that aspect.
(20) Natalia Ilieva from Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) mentioned that we have to change. We understand now, that with climate change the disasters would be more frequent, more violent and more unpredictable. You might have in Armenia that you have never taught before. And it is our duty as media to educate people. Because when we talk about DRR matter of national security and everybody should know people don’t listen necessarily to dedicated channels. So how we change this. We have to work with media to make it proactive.
Margarita Pacheco from “Canal Capital”, Colombia, said what is happening now is that we are evolving from emergency to development. We are trying that institutions of Colombia at local level are now dealing with risk management and climate change.
Lisa Robinson from BBC Media Action thought we need to be looking more at no news media as a way reaching people to their everyday life. There are two things that we need to bear in mind as program makers to make that happen. One is that we need to do qualified research to understand what motivates audiences in any aspects of their lives nor just in disasters, understand what they are interested in, what makes them thick… Secondly, we need to be creative who need to take that information, to challenge ourselves to make really interesting programs for them.
Mark Grigoryan, former journalist of BBC told if we want to switch from disaster management to risk management and to raise the level of media in that, it means that media professionals had to be thought how to do that and who are the people to teach them.
Major-General Nikolay Grigoryan, SFP Focal Point of Armenia, underlined that all possible stackholders must be involved in DRR to reach every target group.
Editorial decisions to carry risk reduction stories, not just cover disasters, can be life-savers in a country such as the Philippines, which faces more than a dozen typhoons a year. “Disaster risk reduction is slowly, but surely, becoming a household world,” said Jerry Esplanada of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Presentations of the 1st day of Conference:
- Jonathan Fowler, UNISDR - “How UNISDR communicates the Sendai Framework”
- Nikolay Grigoryan, Major-General, SFP Focal Point, Deputy of Rescue Service, MTAES - “From Spitak to Sendai”
- Natalia Ilieva, ABU - “Integrating the media into the early warning chain: the standard operating procedures of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union”
Risk reduction information and early warning is etched into the programming of broadcasters in highly hazard-prone countries such as Japan and Australia, noted Ms. Natalia Ilieva of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union.
- Amjad Bhatti, Rural Development Policy Institute - “Disaster Communication concepts and perspectives” (participating online)
In his presentation Development journalist Mr. Amjad Bhatti, a founder of the Rural Development Policy Institute in Pakistan, agreed. “There are different media responses to different categories of disasters. Sudden onset disasters such as earthquakes have the most sensational value. They attract much more attention than slow onset disasters such as drought,” he said. “The media in general follows the misery, but misses out on forecasting the misery.”
Presentations of the 2nd working day of Conference:
- Margarita Pacheco, Canal Capital - “Su Madre Naturaleza: the power of television to raise awareness of disaster risk reduction and environmental issues in Colombia"
- David Owino, DRR Network of Africa Journalists (DIRAJ), Kenia - “Harnessing the power of regional networks of journalists”
- Zhiyuan Li, Chief of East-Europe Headquarters of China radio international (CRI) - “Social Responsibility: A Positive Role Mass Media Should Play in DRR”
- Lisa Robinson, Senior Adviser, Resilience and Humanitarian Response, BBC Media Action - “The role of foundations and NGOs in promoting disaster risk reduction”
Discussion on the ‘International Working Group on public awareness for DRR’
On the Day 2 of the conference two groups deliberated on:
- Media and public awareness aspects in implementing Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction;
- Formulation and functioning of the International Working Group for public awareness in DRR.
Following is the summary of the recommendations made by the group sessions:
Recommendations for the International Working Group:
- Define the composition of the Group (IWG): governments as members, and others in an advisory capacity, or full membership for varies categories?
- Government of Armenia will lead the Group for the initial 2 years, leadership to be rotated between the governments in the IWG
- IWG should connect with other UNISDR stakeholder groups and initiatives (such as WISS), and link with similar networks beyond UNISDR
- Geographic Chapters to be identified with focal points to expand the network
- Focus of IWG: Communicate DRR, communicate Sendai
- Emergency media issues to be lined into a single network to transmit best practice to schools, universities pre-schools, etc . (In Armenia the network includes all embassies in the country; expanding this expertise can be done with the support of the other IWG members)
- Develop an open access database/repository of best practice in DRR communications to enable those who consult it to avoid having to reinvent the wheel each time
- Make the connectivity between the Regional Platforms for DRR, Media stakeholder Group, and the proposed International Working Group
- Once the core members of the IWG are identified, develop a resource mobilization plan, for implementing the IWG activities, meetings of the IWG, and to develop a resource base to implement pilot projects
- UNISDR will ensure the space for discussions and updating progress on work plans, outcomes and commitments of the IWG in the Regional and Global platforms for DRR; support with strategic information; connect with the donors for resource mobilization
- Media Stakeholder Group members, experts agreed to support the IWG along with its Terms of reference
Initial activities suggested for setting up and formalizing the IWG:
- Invite interested governments to join the group with the leadership of the Govt of Armenia
- Revise the current draft of the ToR incorporating recommendations from the conference (Govt of Armenia to work on finalizing the ToR by end of January 2016)
- Initiate the International WG (nkar 35)
- Agree on doable/practical targets to achieve by the Global Platform for DRR ( to be held in May/June 2017)
- Develop a website
- Publicize Sendai Framework related material
- Develop a repository for communication material related to public awareness on disaster risk reduction both at the national and international levels, international best practices in multiple languages
- Develop a data base with materials for the use of different stakeholders
- Organize a ‘clearing house’ for best practice
- Secure air time in radio and TV through the m edia networks
- Publication ‘Disaster communication, a resource kit for media’; Media guide, Practitioner guide
- and (similar publications ) to be publicized, placed on web site, and translate into Russian language
- Identify organizations/groups who is producing guides and communication
The conference explored the following main question:
Why is it difficult get Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) into the media?
Main challenges in communicating DRR were noted as:
- Media is generally considered a tool rather than a partner in the DRR planning and communications process: this hinders the hoped-for reactions and outcomes
- Lack of ownership in DRR stories: who is in charge?
- Lack of understanding the real impact of DRR stories on people
- Lack of continuity/follow up: once the story is put out, how it leads towards progress, or lack thereof, is largely unknown, and it remains unclear how we quantify progress
Lessons shared by the experts as way forward:
- Going beyond news and media competition, working on peer mentorship
- Work on deepening cooperation, not dissemination
- Better engagement of media and developing greater understanding: media and communicators to come up with new ideas for communicating DRR and resilience
- Strengthening existing networks of DRR-interested media , enable connections, promote public dialogue
- Taking the ‘DRR technicality’ out of communication, to humanize stories without getting bogged down in jargon and the ‘inside baseball’ of international processes such as COP21 and Sendai
- Making the links between DRR, climate change and sustainable development, among other areas
- Stimulate and spread innovation; explore beliefs, norms, attitudes of risk perception
- Convey and motivate action through stories and messaging
- Be consistent and comprehensive in reporting
- Work on engaging businesses such as international banks and insurance companies to use the communication and publicity material (this can also lead to resource mobilization)
A few questions and suggestions for further attention:
- Are we asking the right questions when it comes to promoting DRR through advocacy and communication?
- What is the potential of news stories, press releases, social media, video and other outlets to prompt action from the target audience?
- What are the other approaches and avenues of communication? How do we build an optimum combination of approaches?
After the conference some of the participatns shared with us their impressions
Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
- The Conference gave a very clear message which was if you really want to get media involved to be conveyor of message education you have to involve media. Don’t treat them as a tool. Treat media as a stakeholder and as a partner. So, that was the first clear lesson.
Secondly, what I can see and it will happen we want to grow this much bigger. This is the 3rd Conference and my vision is that it will be the network of communicators – build a network of communicators that we can expand at regional level that will work together within this network with some common commitment through the various professional instruments communicate about disaster risks, Sendai program, development and bring it all together so that in our regional conferences in next year and in a Global Conference in 2017 we will already have a much stronger communication’s outreach and a stronger and better informed communications community.
I have heard a lot about Armenia’s investment in this area which is very impressive – creating a much stronger ministry with so many different expertise created around it and investing in communications, ongoing dialogue and education with national platform - the group of very knowledgeable and committed people that use their organizations for the same purpose. I saw here lots of people from local media using this opportunity to learn and engage with people from different parts of the world. These leaves me with a strong sense of commitment that this something that is a high priority to Armenia. Also your engagement in regional and international cooperation is important for country to constantly be able to absorb inspiration from what others are doing and give them inspiration what Armenia is doing. You have some examples here on how you use communications. I think the little clip with the Noah’s arc is a really fantastic video lesson.
Madhavi Ariyabandu, UNISDR Sub regional Coordinator for Central Asia and South Caucasus
- Media can play very important and very critical role for disaster risk reduction because disaster risk reduction is something, which need to happen, which require action from everybody, every day. So, media being everyday presence in society, they can be very important source of how we communicate people, how to build a culture of safety, how to act at an individual level, community level, organizational level, government level, what kind of actions we need to take so that risk of disaster is reduced. And media can actually play this very important role of taking this message and taking this information how to do this to larger society.
First of all, international conference of this nature can serve very good purpose to bring the focus and attention to the subject. So now we are discussing the subject “The role of media in disaster risk reduction” to bring the attention.
Secondly, it can also bring the knowledge, expertise, good examples, which can be shared broadly, so that if there is a good practice in one country, in one community, with one sector of journalists, who have proven to do something well, it can be shared with the others, so this other purposes that international conference like this can serve.
My experience on this subject goes quite long. In general, media is identified as somebody who like big news items, sensational reporting but my experience is that we need to join media with the rest of a conversation about disaster risk reduction planning, which happens at the government level, at the international and private business level because media is also private business which is related to money, related to fame, related to position. So we need to bring media into the planning discussions - what is disaster risk reduction, who is responsibility at. In UNICDR we say disaster risk reduction is everybody’s business, so we need to bring them into the conversations, so that they also became part of the planning, part of the implementation, part of the follow up, not just reporting with figures and situations.
Jonathan Fowler, Public Information Officer, UNISDR
- I am from the UNISDR - the UN office for DRR. I am working in the Public Relations Department of UNISDR. What we see particularly important is that every individual is aware of the risks that they face, and not only aware but also knows how to take actions and not only takes actions but does take actions. That is the importance of DRR.
What we hoping to see from this conference is a concrete plan of action to create an international group that will take the lessons, for example from Armenia, multiple other countries and share them around the world so that each country can share best practice and share methods of communication and interaction with public on DRR. For example, whether we should move beyond the classic media, printed, online media to social media - those sorts of areas that we need be investigating. And also how can we ensure those people who are isolated from communication can be brought into public awareness.
I am a journalist. I have been working for the UN for 12 months now. As a result, I did right news stories about DRR and one thing that I know from my job and know from my current job is that it can be very difficult to interest people in something that doesn’t happen. People look at an earthquake, a hurricane and it will grab an attention. People will pay attention to death and destruction. One of the great difficulties in writing about DRR as a journalist but also communicating about DRR as a practitioner is to develop an interest in what can be done to stop bad things happening.
It is my first time in Yerevan but my first time in Armenia was last month. I was in Stepanavan for a meeting. Stepanavan is a role model city for UNISDR’s “Making the cities resilient” campaign. A number of majors from other cities of the region came to Stepanavan in November to sign up an agreement to make the cities more resilient.
Armenia oversee a very important experience tragically because of Spitak earthquake in 1988 that has mended Armenia more than many other countries has learnt the hard way what we need to do reduce the disaster risks but as a result the country has worked extremely hard over the last 27 years to develop public awareness, to develop proper methodologies for reducing risk. For example, making sure that the all the emergency services need both know to know what to do, have proper coordination. So it is very clear that Armenia’s experience learnt trough tragedy as I said, has been actually very positive in that sense.
Natalia Ilieva, Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union
- We can’t stress how important is the role of media in DRR because this is the only stakeholder in whole process that can unite everybody else. Media is the interface with the nation - the people that we have to worn. We have to educate how to react when the messages of warnings are received. So, the media is extremely important to be a part of this process.
I am really impressed at the level of commitment in Armenia by the government authorities, by the journalists really to work together and to prepare people for future disasters basically. It will be great if we have a very solid action plan what we do after this conference because conferences bring people together but we really have to start the work. We have been talking for too long. We need to connect for projects and for joint actions.
Lisa Robinson, BBC Media Action
- The role of media and communication for DRR is critical, I think it cannot be done without it. It can help give people information. It can help motivate them for taking actions. It can build confidence, it can give people a platform for discussion about how their communities, their households can be on and take action together.
The conference is a really good idea to have, especially for Armenia where I can see that there is a fantastic link between emergency services, DRR and communication. It is a wonderful example where the things are working really well. We are very fortunate to be, come here and learn from what is working here well and take ideas from other countries as well.
Margaret Pacheco, TV program director, Canal Capital TV, Colombia
- I am from Bogota, Colombia. I work as a TV program director of the program “Your mother nature”, Canal Capital which is a Bogota public TV channel.
I am used to go to Conferences and I always would like to have concrete results. One of the issues that I think is very important is to have joint here communicators like me from different regions of the world first to get to know Armenia. I must confess, it was not in my map but now it is in my map and I really find a very-very interesting place to come back. Secondly, the fact of getting to know all the colleagues with whom I work and work jointly here in a collaborative platform because definitely media and communication are key stakeholder group to promote, to educate, to do, to teach and to go to a broader audience and not only experts in these topics are disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change.
I know it is very important to link what happened - the agreements with the Governments in Paris, what the role of Media and also what is going to happen next year, the involvement and the commitment of the Governments for 2016. So, what we have to do as communicators is to help the institutions and the Governments to disseminate, to make people understand. Normally, people who are watching TV or listening to radio or a young guy watching to his mobile phone while chatting and so getting to social networks with these topics and these topics become part of their daily life.
David Owino, Journalist/Communications Consultant, Nаirobi, Kenya
- Here I am representing the network of journalists in Africa for disaster risk reduction or for disaster risk reporting. Our network is called DIRAJ. It is a short form of disaster risk reduction network of Africa journalists.
I think it is becoming a lot clear now. We are designing very good solutions for communities that can help them to get out of disaster risks. But these solutions can’t communicate to those communities. I think that media is very important to turn this beautiful strategies into messages that can help communities to be safe in time to disaster.
My expectation from this Conference is to have a solid framework for journalists to know how they are going to engage in disaster risk reduction and how exactly they are going to communicate these beautiful messages. These messages are made for everybody but not everybody is the same. Our audience is very different. There is one thing we must make very clear from here. How we will reach the various audiences in their places?
This is my first visit to Armenia. It is a very beautiful country. I love its old design architecture. Coming from a very busy city Nairobi, a city of near 4 million people which is close to entire population of Armenia, I can say there is really no traffic in this town. It is so easy, so calm. It has been a beautiful experience being in Armenia. It has a reach history. I didn’t know just how rich is its history and civilization itself. I was very excited.
Awa Diedhiou, Journaliste à la WADR 94.9 FM, Dakar, Senegal
- I think media has a great role in disaster risk reduction, because it is a main way of communication and people relay on media. So media also can inform people about disaster risk reduction and not only to report on people who was died because of disaster but also warn people and tell how to prepare themselves so they won’t be victims of disasters.
I think this conference should put a focus on how media should communicate on disaster, to make them much more engaged on disaster risk reduction, to make them do not forget that their target. It is to protect people, to protect themselves, to make them aware of disasters, and not only waiting until disaster comes and report on it but they will report on it every time, prevent the people to make them prepared themselves.
Paul Netherton, Assistant Chief Constable, Exeter county, UK
- I am a senior officer in the British Police. We work very closely with the media making sure they are getting messages about what the risks are that people face in their community. What we find is if we can get a simple message out particularly to young people. They would post that message on to their parents and out into the community. And this is the simple messages about being prepared, thinking about an incident before it happens and therefore making people to respond them more effectively when it does happen.
I think one the important things is that media is changing. It is not just about the radio and television. Young people all are using Facebook and Tweeter and social media. If you have a single incident, we have lots of flooding. If that happens we put out off a message 20-30 thousand people, we tweet them every day making sure people are aware what happened, which roads are closed, which houses are affected. Very quickly we can get to the whole community through young peolpe.
Jerry Esplanada, Philippine Daily Inquirer
- Media has very important role in DRR. I have been writing for DRR stories for about 4 years. For the Philipines it is very important since according to the latest report of UN on DRR my country is one of the 5 countries in the world which are the most disaster prone along with the USA, China, India and Indonesia. That’s why it is very important to learn about DRR to let the people know about risks before the disaster strikes.
Download high quality videos from the Conference here: