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Recommendations and conclusion
The importance of risk communication in averting many public health crises and natural disasters cannot be overstated. Yet risk communication has received attention only in recent years. Moreover, ICTs have not been harnessed to their full potential to mitigate risks from natural disasters and public health emergencies. For example, a review of risk communication case studies in the Asia Pacific region on issues such as earthquakes, flood, fire threats and disaster mitigation revealed that ICTs were rarely, if ever, used or even considered as a tool.
In order to be effective, risk communication, of which ICT should be an integral component, should be a continuous process that is integrated into the overall developmental scheme of every country. Objectives such as integrating the principles of sustainable development into country policies, building a healthy society and preventing loss of environmental resources cannot be achieved without placing due emphasis on effective risk communication strategies. Current development practices do not necessarily reduce the vulnerability of communities to disasters. Indeed, ill-advised and misdirected development practices may actually increase a society's vulnerability to the risks of disasters. A considerable challenge remains in raising awareness and capacity building so that communities can confidently meet any crisis situation.
We also recommend that national governments promote risk communication in local languages, given that English is spoken by a mere fraction of the close to three billion people who live in the Asia Pacific region. Localization of information about risks will make such content more useful to the population.
Political commitment by governmental and organizational policymakers and community leaders, based on an understanding of risks and disaster reduction concepts as well as the role of ICTs, is fundamental to giving risk communication its rightful place in disaster management. Some national governments fail to implement ICT-friendly policies despite the many benefits of ICTs, particularly in developing countries with poor infrastructures as noted by some cases in this chapter. ICTs can play a significant role in communication of risks arising from natural disasters and public health emergencies. They are not just commercial tools whose sole purpose is to increase corporate profits in the 'emerging economies' of Asia Pacific. ICTs can also contribute to social development.
Telecommunications regulators have a special role in promoting the media that are used in disaster warning systems. Whereas under normal circumstances, mass media such as television, radio, telephones and the Internet may compete with each other as commercial entities, regulation can encourage them to work in harmony during disaster situations for the public good. Thus, making disaster management a part of telecommunication regulation ought to be considered.
Ongoing ICT4D programmes should be made more comprehensive through the inclusion of risk communication. After all, developmental progress is severely curtailed when crises befall a community. Risk communication should be included as one of the dimensions of the activities of telecentres which are found in many rural Asian societies today. The use of an established channel such as telecentres in risk communication may be more economical and more reliable than using a system specially meant for the purpose. Similarly, risk communication can also be made a part of community radio programmes.
Finally, it is essential to give priority to regional efforts since natural disasters and health risks such as pandemics often cross national boundaries. It is prudent for national governments to invest in regional efforts while also focusing on national priorities. Regional and international organizations serve as critical allies in this task by sharing knowledge and creating a common platform that national governments can harness for the benefit of the populace.