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OAS programs turn a green leaf.

The Organization of American States is ideally suited to addressing the complexities of environmental issues with thirty-five member states working together through a variety of political and multidisciplinary technical branches.

National laws, international treaties, economic policies, cultural values, basic needs, understanding and knowledge all impact on what is done or not done. For example, the survival of migratory ducks, who fly from the Antarctic to the Arctic twice a year and whose populations have dropped dangerously in the past decade, is affected by forces as diverse as farming practices in Peru, development and uses of beaches in Delaware, and Canadian wetlands policies. The Tucuman Amazon parrot, common ten years ago, is now endangered due to forestry practices in many countries, the needs of villagers for farm land and lumber, the fad for exotic birds in the United States, and the taste for feather art in Europe.

For over twenty years the OAS has conducted projects dealing with environmental issues. The Department of Scientific Affairs has trained thousands of scientists and established an inter-American network of scientific institutions concerned with both theoretical and applied research. The Department of Educational Affairs has brought together the universities of the many Amazon countries to develop joint research and curricula in the fields of nature and the environment. On another level, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs have worked with government ministries and other institutions to develop policies and enact laws related to the environment.

Culture: Cause and Effect

Environment cannot be separated from culture. As the complexities of environmental issues become daily more apparent, other departments of the OAS have initiated their own particular programs. One of these is the Regional Program of Cultural Development (PRDC).

Religion, aesthetics, rituals, food preferences and attitudes towards what constitutes the "good life" (thus influencing consumption) develop within and in reaction to a physical environment. History has demonstrated that these attitudes change and evolve with the migration of people and the settlement of new territories. Social and cultural values, molded by the encounter of European settlers with indigenous civilizations, helped determine what plants and animals were brought to the New World or sent back to the Old, as well as how the land was used and what lands or products were considered useful. Even today, cultural clashes often center around the use of resources.

The PRDC is working to promote awareness of the impact of culture on the environment, and vice versa, through four of its multinational projects: Preservation and Use of Cultural Heritage; Cultural Policies and Regional Studies; Libraries, Information and Communication; and Popular Culture and Education. An important component of the program will be a series of inter-American seminars entitled Collective Security in Latin America: Alternative to Overcome Regional Vulnerability to be carried out between 1991-95. Efforts are being made, through a variety of projects, to adapt cultural legislation in Latin America and the Caribbean to today's development needs. The focus in the Caribbean Basin is on the restoration of monuments and the surrounding environment; in other areas experts are examining the relationship of human dwellings and indigenous technologies to the environment. Between 1992 and 1995 the interrelationship of artisans in biospheres in Mexico and Central America will be studied to identify culturally and environmentally compatible models of development. Furthermore, several Andean countries are working together to identify and apply low cost traditional methods to village industry and agriculture--methods which appear to be environmentally safe as well as economically viable.

Youth-minded Media

The PRDC activities concerning media and youth are good examples of how the OAS works. In the past this office has conducted projects to improve the quality of design, writing, distribution and documentation of Latin American children's literature. Based on that experience, the Multinational Project on Libraries, Information, and Communication has developed a six year project to promote the production and improve the quality and distribution of material--including television and radio programs; compact discs, travelling exhibitions and publications--related to nature and the environment. Both commercial and nonprofit productions will be taken into account.

The ultimate goal of this project is to encourage children and adolescents to "Think globally; Act locally", in other words to understand the connection between what they do and the well-being of the planet. Since many young people spend more time out of school than in, the mass media frequently have a greater impact on their values than does formal education. If the values of this generation are to be changed or redirected, the quality and content of the ever-present mass media must be addressed.

As a first step, PRDC will hold a symposium in Valparaiso, Chile, in April 1991, with the cooperation of the OAS Regional Program of Science and Technology. Participants will include Latin American and Spanish ecologists, media producers and experts in communication for young people, as well as representatives of international conservation institutions such as the Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund. The assembled experts will examine already existing material, both in terms of its technical accuracy and how effectively the message is delivered. They will discuss questions such as: which materials have universal appeal as opposed to only regional or local; what laws exist that are preventing the free flow and distribution of materials between countries; can an inter-American network be established whereby environmental radio programs produced by one station could be exchanged with others?

Follow-up of recommendations made at the symposium will take place between 1991 and 1995. Multinational activities will be designed to exchange material and to translate technical data into popular language, and one or several centers will be designated to serve as information clearinghouses. The follow-up will serve as a valuable springboard for a meeting on the development of environmental teaching materials, to be held in September in Paraguay, sponsored by the OAS Regional Program of Educational Development.

A number of organizations are collaborating with the OAS in the planning and financing of the symposium and related activities, including Radionederland of Holland; Fundacion Santa Maria of Spain, which focuses on the welfare of children, and Inovaciones y Comunicaciones of Mexico, the producers of one of the most long-lived and important children's magazines, Chispa.

In the English-speaking Caribbean a parallel activity is being carried out through the Multinational Project on Popular Culture and Education. Having focused in 1990-91 on developing media on drug abuse, this project will focus on the environment in 1992. As opposed to the more regional Latin American efforts, the project will emphasize the use of local images and forms of language in delivering the message through television, radio and print. Training will be provided at the community level to promote the protection of surrounding flora and fauna, and community libraries will be involved in the development of materials.

These programs reflect the different needs and perspectives of countries which have been inundated by foreign media--24 to 30 U.S. television channels reach Caribbean nations with populations of 60,000 or less, thus overwhelming any local efforts to compete in the mass media. Since many of these are island countries, they are also more acutely aware of negative environmental impact. Furthermore, some only recently achieved independence and the urge to develop a voice of their own is that much stronger.

Hook Up for the Planet

The frontier generation viewed nature as a force to be overcome. At a time when land and resources were abundant, though not always accessible, this attitude was necessary for survival. However, passed on to subsequent generations, what was once a healthy outlook proved to be unhealthy. If future disasters are to be avoided, people must change their values and habits and young people must "tune in" to the care of the environment. Programs such as these of the OAS may make a world of difference.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Organization of American States
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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