With the Caribbean running the risk of insufficient access to water and compromised quality of the precious resource due to climate change, together with decades-old infrastructure deficiencies and a slew of institutional, legislative and enforcement challenges, civil society engagement as vital to the solution is clear.
And communication — through, among other things, appropriate communication campaigns and engagement of the mass media — is the tool to reach them.
This emerged during deliberations at the High Level Forum of Water Ministers at the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association (CWWA) Conference and Exhibition, held on Paradise Island in the Bahamas last month.
But how does such an effort take shape?
It is about the people with the information working, through collaborative action, to package messages that can be shared with members of the public via an advertising platform.
Those messages, in turn, have to be so packaged as to suit the needs of the various audiences — from private business interests to public interests, farmers, fishers, and local community stakeholders.
It requires the use of cultural tools, such as music, that allow people to identify with the messages, thus creating a fertile ground for buy-in and subsequent behaviour change. Panos Caribbean has a useful methodology in the way of its Voices for Climate Change Education Programme.
The programme brings together music industry professionals — writers, performers and producers — from Jamaica and, in more recent times, Haiti to be educated on climate change and then guided to create music that successfully spreads climate change messages.
Also critical to making communication work in the interest of water security in the Caribbean is the engagement of the media — and in a meaningful and sustained way.
This point was well made by Communications Specialist with the Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management (CReW) project Donna Sue Spencer, during her presentation at the CWWA conference, which ran from October 6 through 11 at Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
Informed by research done as part of two journalists workshops held under the CReW project in Latin America and the Caribbean last year, Spencer left her audience with a potent quote from journalist-turned-public-relations-professional Kim Young:
“It is a journalist’s responsibility to inform the public. It’s the responsibility of various organisations to pursue us”.
In means that on any given day, water sector ministers and other professionals must recognise that a journalist is actively engaged in any number of news pursuits while being bombarded by information flows from individuals and oganisations intent on having their own issues reported on.
And they, too, will need to get in on that action, if water is to be given the urgent attention it requires in the race to have in place a comprehensive response to climate impacts.