Thursday, October 28, 2010

HIV response can help tackle climate change - expert

By Aimable Twahirwa
Kigali: HIV-AIDS and Climate change are said to remain the major causes of major causes of poverty, illness and death among the 9.7 million Rwandans and millions of Africans as a result of inappropriate way of mass mobilization for behavior change. Grace Davies, an expert with Africa Talks Climate in the BBC World Service Trust tells RNA how locally available methods used in battling HIV-Aids could be used to tackle climate change.

Given a chance to access locally appropriate information, can the communities come up with better solutions to adapting to climate change?
Absolutely, in Rwanda as well as the whole Africa, before tackling Climate change, it is important to see that from the experience, the HIV/AIDS epidemic may provide some useful lessons. Its effects were most acute in Africa, but the language and communication methods were generated by experts from outside of the continent. For many years, much of the early debates around HIV/AIDS were conducted in terms that were technical in
nature and often untranslatable into terms or languages that were capable of resonating with those most affected. But, the real sea change in Africa’s response to HIV/AIDS came when those most affected by the virus exposed the true reality of the impact – social
and economic as well as medical – on their lives, and demanded access to treatment and resources.

From you perspective, are climate change and HIV/ AIDS two disparate subjects?
The main issue to highlight is that with HIV/HIDS, it was the increasingly vocal, sophisticated and organized response from African civil society that transformed international public and policy responses to the pandemic. Rwandan as well as other African citizens became the agents of change, not the subjects. The same may well prove true of climate change

How do assess the lack of true conceptualization of weather patterns could affect poor population?
Although most of poor communities are aware that weather patterns are changing, understanding of global climate change is still limited. The central finding, that communication and information provision will be central to Africa's response to climate change is supported by opinion leaders - who agree that the general public needs more information. A fuller understanding of climate change, causes and effects will enable people to make effective long-term adaptation choices to cope with climate change, along with behavior change that mitigates the adverse effects of climate change. This could manifest itself in a variety of ways of course dependent upon the context. Without accurate, appropriate information, it is far more difficult to make effective choices about how to cope.

There is different actors’ involvement in this campaign. But who is to blame first for being responsible of this situation?
We don't seek to place blame with this research. but rather are identifying the fact that until now communication about climate change in general, and most specifically to and with those who are being (and will continue to be) most affected has been very poor.

So what need to be done for behavior change vis-a-vis the negative impacts of climate change on poor communities in Rwanda?
There is a need for targeted, locally appropriate information about climate change and how to adapt to it to reach those most in need. There is also a need for the creation of spaces for dialogue, debate and discussion around the issues that strengthens understanding at all levels of society and helps to inform policy at local and national level. Grassroots action and discussion and locally focused campaigns addressed HIV and AIDS and communicated messages on appropriate action have shown real behavior change. The context in which the spreading of messages about HIV /AIDS is done should be the same thing when tackling climate change issue. (END)

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