A network of Asia-Pacific journalists on water issues

BY balmurli krishna| IN Media Practice | 12/04/2004
The Asian Development Bank is trying to create a network of journalists to circulate news stories related to water issues in the region.

 Y.Bala Murali Krishna

A unique experiment to constitute a network of at least 150 journalists belonging to Asia-Pacific countries on water and sanitation issues, is under way under the aegis of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It will also provide them with a platform to exchange development news for mutual benefit. 

ADB plans to involve the Rome-based international news agency - Inter Press Service (IPS) - run by a non-profit organization engaged in development and human rights journalism. It is also looking to involve other news agencies which could help circulate news stories related to the water issues plaguing these nations. 

This is in addition to encouraging the traditional media to educate the masses to bring about water awareness among them. The authorities believe that traditional forms such as puppetry and folk arts besides children’s books could help achieve awareness faster in rural areas. 

Along with bringing out voluminous literature in the form of books, video and audio CD’s in the recent past, the Bank started holding national workshops for different media personnel interested in water and sanitation aspects. Two such workshops were conducted for about 50 journalists in Chennai and New Delhi recently with several experts from India and abroad enlightening the media on various related topics. 

ADB held similar workshops for media in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam earlier in a bid to educate them on water issues so that the planners and policy makers took note of the seriousness of the situation. 

This gains significance at a time when the responsible activist institutions such as the Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment (CSE) have exposed the harmful pesticide residues in bottled water and soft drinks raising a storm on health issues in the country besides questioning the multi-national corporations engaged in bottling the water and soft drinks. 

Horrible water shortages in major cities such as Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad, leave alone a majority of rural areas, efforts to link national river waters, persistent drought conditions, privatization of water tanks in some areas inviting the wrath of the public, desalination/saline water ingression of underground water table following indiscriminate shrimp culture and unscientific water management practices ---all these issues continue to provide perennial news source for journalists. 

The ADB also feels that renewed awareness of these burning issues among journalists could focus attention of the editors of respective newspapers and other media in these countries so that they encourage adequate coverage on the situation exposing the truths and untruths on availability or otherwise of water.

Studies established the fact that one in three Asians does not have access to safe drinking waster; one in two Asians does not have adequate sanitation facilities; 90 per cent of these are in rural areas while the urban poor are on rise. 

It was also estimated that two out of three people in the world will face water shortages by the year 2025 even as 1.1 billion people lacked access to safe water supply and 2.4 billion lacked basic sanitation facilities, according to Charles Andrews, principal water supply and sanitation specialist. 

Mr. Tim Cullen and Mr. Paul Fisher the workshop facilitators and Mr. Kelvin Rafferty, journalist facilitators said that the media should understand the causes behind the water shortages such as growing population pressures, unsustainable levels of ground water extraction and increased development. These  have lead to higher pollution, overexploitation, water shortages and a degradation of the natural environment. 

Ineffective government policy, the inability to cover operation and maintenance of both urban and rural water use, large-scale subsidies and the refusal to entertain use fees, little incentives to connect the urban poor, the lack of autonomy for utilities growing bureaucracies, increased conflicts between central and state governments, polarization around the building of dams and a lack of political will have only encouraged the unsustainable use of water resources in the past few decades. 

All these aspects require media exposure and this could be done if the journalists were made aware of them in detail. The role of private sector and reforming India’s current institutional arrangements, importance of transparent policies, cost recovery, the prevailing myth that 24-hour coverage is not possible, decentralization and the importance of community involvement, cooperation between neighboring states at the water basin level and dams and development were some of the topics journalists were exposed to. 

At present, the Tokyo-based Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) runs an e-newsline bulletin styled as Asia-Pacific Development News and Analysis on a regular basis besides inviting journalists of the region to participate in competitions to get international awards for the best development reporting.  

Mr. Fisher answered the following questions recently indicating the efforts being made by the ADB for setting up a media network in Asia that go a long way in educating the masses besides providing an eye-opener to the government on water issues. 

Q. What is the  immediate provocation for the ADB to hold such workshops and create the media network?  

A. The purpose of workshops was to increase the understanding of journalists throughout India and other countries towards water issues affecting them, with the hope that the result will be more informed assessment of the key issues, a greater ability for journalists to persuade their editors as to the importance of water issues as well as greater media coverage on the subject. It was also opportunity to provide journalists with ready-made information by experts. 

Q. What is the status of your plan to network journalists interested in water issues as indicated in your workshops as an immediate follow-up? 

A. Over the next couple of months, we plan to link up all 150 journalists who attended our national media workshops in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and India. We will send you further information on how this network is to be formalized closer to time. As was mentioned, we are looking to developing a possible partnership with Inter Press Service (IPS). 

Q. Do you want to involve only India or any other country in the sub-continent in this task? 

A. We hope to hold similar workshops in Central Asia, Indonesia, the Pacific Islands and smaller workshops in Laos, Sri Lanka and Nepal. We would like to hold another one in India focusing particularly on the vernacular media. 

Q. What is the modality of the proposed network? 

A. We are still working on this. We will be able to provide you with the further details in near future. We possibly plan to bring out an e-news bulletin for circulation among network members. 

Q. Do you want to encourage IPS news agency alone on this mission?

 A. We like to start with a possible partnership with IPS but would certainly not discount other news agencies in the future. It is important to stress that in all these cases, the news outlets would have full editorial control and the ADB would just provide them with logistical support. 

Q. Are you happy with the outcome of such workshops? 

A. Overall, yes. We have seen an increase in journalist writings on water issues following all these workshops. 

Q. Do similar networks with journalists exist? 

A. We have just one pan-Asian network consisting of journalists who have attended our workshops to date.  

Q. How do you assess the performance/participation of journalists, both men and women?  

A. We don`t tend to assess the performance of participants (other than through our informal competition). What is most important to us is to obtain journalist feedback on how useful the workshops have been.


The writer is a Goa-based media specialist and can be accessed at ybalu@sancharnet.in





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