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The Tampere Declaration on Disaster Communication

From May 20-22, 1991, 120 experts in communications and disaster management from more than 25 countries met in Tampere, Finland, for the Conference on Disaster Communications. Mr. Mauri Pekkarinen, Finland's Minister of the Interior, identified some of the aspirations shared by many of the delegates to the Tampere Conference:

We think that communications offer several possibilities to be used by emergency management systems. Before a disaster strikes it is possible to predict the approaching hazard, to alert the emergency authorities, to raise awareness among the public and to warn the people in a disaster stricken country.

After a disaster has struck it is possible to collect information, to assess damage, to provide leaders of rescue activities means of cooperation for relief and assistance procedures, to transmit news and information to news agencies and representatives of the mass media about on-going efforts and rescue measures ...

[D]isaster work organizations operate rationally only when the communication systems are effective.

At the conclusion of three days of intensive discussions, the conference participants agreed to The Tampere Declaration on Disaster Communications, addressing the urgent need to coordinate and improve national and international communications capabilities to reduce loss of life and damage to property and the environment as a result of natural and man-made disasters.

In the face of massive tragedy caused by recent cyclones and tidal waves in Bangladesh, earthquakes in Iran, and drought and famine in the Sudan, The Tampere Declaration calls for the negotiation of an international Convention on Disaster Communications. According to the Declaration, the Convention should, at a minimum:

Participants at the Tampere Conference cited dozens of examples where more effective communications could have saved literally thousands of lives that were needlessly lost as a result of natural and man-made disasters. The magnitude and the inadequacy of the current response was poignantly reflected in the May 27, 1991, edition of Time, under the apt title, There Must Be a Better Way: "Improvements in communications and transportation have made the world's disasters no easier to handle. Even with better warning systems, reactions can be snail-paced, ill-considered and futile."

Noting that the 1990s have been designated by the United Nations the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, the Tampere Declaration recognized "that disasters have killed millions of people over the past twenty years alone and caused massive financial and other damage to people, property and the environment," and stressed that both "improved flows of international information through telecommunications technologies" and the "critical role of the mass media" must be strengthened to "prevent some of the consequences and reduce the impact of such disasters once they have occurred."

Among the dignitaries speaking at the Tampere Conference on Disaster Communications, in addition to Minister Pekkarinen, were Conference Chair Dr. Pekka Tarjanne, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union; Mr. M. Hamed Essaafi, Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and U.N. Disaster Relief Coordinator; and Mr. Par Stenback, Secretary General of the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The experts in attendance came from governments, international organizations, private industry, non-profit groups, and universities in Australia, Belgium, China, Colombia, Denmark, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Morocco, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar, the Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom, and the United States, among other nations.

The Conference on Disaster Communications was sponsored by the International Institute of Communications, Aamuhleti Group Ltd., and The Annenberg Washington Program, with substantial support from the Government of Finland. Additional support for the Tampere Conference was provided by the United Nations Disaster Relief Organization, International Telecommunication Union, United Nations High Commissioners for Refugees, World Medical Organization, World Health Organization, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Finnish Post and Telecommunications, the Center for Public Service Communications, Center for International Environmental Law, and the City of Tampere.

The Text of the Tampere Declaration is available here.