Josefina Maestu is the Coordinator of the UN-Water Decade Programme of Advocacy and Communication (UNW-DPAC). She offers her insights on how organizations can more effectively work with the media and raise public awareness on water issues.
What do you see as the main challenges you face when trying to engage the media to cover water issues?
Water is a very broad, diverse and complex topic. The provision of water and sanitation services; the development of water resources for agriculture, ecosystems or industry and the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events, for example, all fall under the water banner but involve distinct sets of concerns. Each issue must be broken down in order to begin to talk with a member of the media before they will cover any story.
A second pervasive challenge is that the management and governance of water are long-term and often slow-moving processes. Some of the core water issues that many organizations want to drive into the public consciousness, such as the need for improved governance and infrastructure, or reporting on whether a river basin authority does their job properly, is not a very "hot topic" for anybody.
The depth, volume and style of reporting also vary by region. In drier climates, locations that are flood prone, or places where unsafe drinking water poses a constant health threat, water tends to be more in the spotlight. When water problems escalate, public concern and media attention magnify. Communicators in the water community must highlight how a specific problem impacts people's lives at the local, national, or regional level in order to help journalists write compelling articles and raise public awareness.
How can water organizations work to make these issues more accessible to the media and public?
Many publications in the field are dense, technical, and oriented towards an expert audience. When new reports are released, journalists need help to cipher through the facts, and find ideas and inspiration for stories that they can bring to their editors.
UNW-DPAC creates a number of media resources to this end, including media briefs, electronic media as website and new social media like a blog for African water journalists or the Office's twitter, photos, documentaries and videos. We have learned from our experience that is helpful to produce materials under separate themes. For example, we produce individual kits for scarcity issues, and separate ones for access to water and sanitation, trans-boundary water, wastewater, financing. etc.
We also maintain regular contact with our media network, mostly within transitioning and developing countries, where we try to help them better cover local water issues. This continued and close interaction with journalists is a very important component of our work and for all organizations working with public outreach.