CAIRO: Under the motto “Prevention is better than the cure,” UNICEF and the Cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Center (IDSC) jointly launched the National Communication Strategy for Raising Societal Awareness in the Area of Risk Reduction and Crisis Management last week.
“Few know that the devastations of disasters can be prevented by risk reduction initiatives,” Mohamed Fawzi, head of the Crisis Management and Disaster Risk Reduction of the IDSC, said.
This strategy, approved in February 2010 by the Egyptian Parliament, aims at equipping Egypt with an institutional framework and a set of action plans that the population should apply in cases of human-made or natural crises.
“Even if Egypt may be described as a relatively stable country, a risk prevention and crisis management strategy is crucial,” Erma Manoncourt, Egypt’s UNICEF representative, said, reminding the public of the avian and swine flue, as well as of the latest rain flood in January 2010 that ravaged parts of Egypt.
“The strategy will focus on fires, pandemics and earthquakes,” she continued.
“We used a bottom-up approach to elaborate our strategy by asking people what they would expect from such a program,” Sahar Hegazi, UNICEF Communication for Development chief, said, pointing at the aim of the strategy: Teaching the population how to effectively prevent crises and providing them with guidelines to follow in case of a crisis to minimize the damages.
Nagwa El Gazzar, head of the mass communication Department at Misr International University, elaborated on the communication strategy of the program. Drawing conclusions from her numerous field studies, El Gazzar stresses the crucial role of new modes of communication.
“We want to use SMS messages and the internet on the one hand, but also activate local communities through churches and mosques to reach all parts of the Egyptian population as quickly as possible in cases of crisis,” she said.
Next to crisis management, the strategy wants to build a conscience of crisis prevention and a culture of preparedness in society. “A culture of proactivity vis-à-vis crises has to replace the traditional view that natural catastrophes are god’s punishment and that you can do nothing to prevent it,” El Gazzar emphasizes.
The strategy emphasizes the importance of education and media in its effective implementation. Hence, the program envisages training of journalists in crisis reporting so as not to over- or under-emphasize the gravity of the crisis, as well as to encourage the use of a simple language that reaches everybody.
“People want to know what is really going on,” El Gazzar explained.
Moreover, schools and universities should be provided with a curriculum including behavior guidelines to prevent and effectively act during a crisis. “The youth is the future of our country. If not them, who should embrace a new attitude towards crisis management?” El Gazzar said.
The active participation of civil societies, NGO’s and individuals is essential to achieve the aims of this program.
The participants of the conference – university professors, media representatives, as well as specialists in the field of communication and crisis management – nevertheless highlighted some obstacles to the effective implementation of the strategy.
How can you teach security measures at school if the school does not possess a fire alarm system or emergency exits? How effectively can you combat fires in informal settlements that do not have any water facilities?
“We are not here to hold a party in a fancy hotel and speak about a strategy. No, it’s not the end; it’s the beginning of a comprehensive program,” Maged Osman, IDSC Chairman, concluded.