Raising community concerns to a national audience in Pakistan

panos south asia

"Raising Community Concerns to a National Audience in Pakistan" was a joint effort of Panos, civil society organizations and local and national media together with the people of the Manchar Lake. Affected by pollution from a government-led land draining project, the local fishing and farming communities succeded to bring the community's concern about their environment, livelihood and health to the national agenda.

Title: "Raising Community Concerns to a National Audience in Pakistan"

Country: Pakistan

Organizations: Panos London and Panos South Asia, local and national civil society organizations (CSOs), and local and national media 

Theme: Natural Resource Management

Overview of activities:  Since the 1990s, the fishing and farming communities around the Manchar Lake has suffered from the effects of a land draining project in the area. The project has largely affected the environment as well as the livelihood and health of community members. The community and local organizations have made a number of advocacy-related activities against the problem since the mid-1990s but it has not received significant attention by the government.

This study showcased the integrated approach to communication for development of Panos by combining first person testimony, relationship-building, inclusive dialogue and working with the mainstream media to ensure that the voices of people most affected by development issues contribute to national-level understanding and decision-making. 

Methodology: The project started in 2005 when Shirkat Gah, a leading women’s rights organization in Pakistan, assisted Panos London and Panos South Asia in identifying Manchar Lake as an area where "focused communication work" may be done. This was based on the initial work done by Shirkat Gah with the fishing and farming communities near the lake since 1999.  In 2005-2007, these three organizations together with the community of Manchar Lake collectively looked into the barriers preventing the local community's views from being heard. Through various communication methods such as oral testimonies conducted by a trained team of interviewers composed of journalists, civil society organization workers, and a specialist from an interactive theater organization, the community's voice was heard. These testimonies were transformed into print and TV features by participating journalists as part of their contribution in raising awareness on the issue.

In January 2007, a People’s Assembly was held by the banks of Manchar Lake among more than 1,200 community members along with local leaders and landowners, NGOs, community-based organizations, and media representatives. The objective of the assembly was for the community and other stakeholders to engage in meaningful dialogue regarding the effects caused by the water drainage project. During the activity, an interactive theater based on the oral testimonies that focused on issues related to pollution in the Manchar Lake was staged. This method was able to present information in an entertaining manner and, at the same time, encouraged participation from the audience. The assembly ended with a set of recommendations for provincial and national policymakers.

Major outcomes/impact:

  • Community ownership of the project, particularly the People's Assembly by engaging the lakeside community in its planning and execution
  • Focus on voices of the community through oral testimonies of community members
  • Bringing together interest groups, i.e. fishing and farming families, to work on common concerns
  • Engaging the local elite (local government officials and landowners) in the People's Assembly and in demanding senior government officials to develop effective policy responses

Milestones: The following were the key lessons identified from the project:

  • Making direct voices of affected individuals central to the public debate enhances the relevance, legitimacy, inclusiveness, and accessibility 
of that debate.
  • Using a number of communication methods, and producing different outputs in order to engage a variety of audiences, is important.
  • Building relationships and mutual understanding between communities, NGOs, and the media significantly increases awareness and strengthens advocacy campaigns.
  • Local stories can raise national interest if they are conveyed well
.
  • Involving local elites and gaining their support is crucial in reaching higher-level policymakers.

Contacts:

Siobhan Warrington, Senior Adviser, Voice, Panos London - Siobhan.warrington@panos.org.uk
Sahar Ali, Country Representative, Pakistan, Panos South Asia - sahar@panossouthasia.org
Olivia Bennett, Oral Testimony Consultant, Panos London - oliviaB@panoslondon.org.uk

The project report is available here.

Photo credit: Panos South Asia