VII. INFORMATION AND TRAINING NEEDS
C. Mechanisms for disseminating environmental information among the parties concerned
1. Government agencies
The Department of the Environment established an environmental information system utilizing data collected by department staff. However, for a more effective environmental analysis, the Department of the Environment needs to have systematic access to relevant information collected by other agencies and to include that information in its own information system. The Department of the Environment would then become the central repository of all environmental information. The sharing of information between agencies would not only avoid the duplication of tasks but also improve the capability of each agency to add the environmental dimension to their planning and management processes.
Data exchange relationships have been sought with the Department of Forests and other agencies such as NLTB, the Department of Lands, the Department of Mineral Resources, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests (particularly the Land Survey Section), and the Department of Town and Country Planning. However, the development of systematic data exchange between such agencies remains, at best, rudimentary.
Given the close relationship which exists between environmental and socio-economic issues, it is rational to attempt combining environmental information with socio-economic data. To do that, agreements to acquire and exchange data with the agencies responsible for the collection of socio-economic data also need to be concluded. Just as socio-economic data are an important and necessary dimension in environmental assessments, so are environmental data important and necessary for sustainable socio-economic development. For example, the distribution and density of populations impact in many ways on natural systems. Census data should therefore be an important component of any environmental database. Census, financial and economic data which are regularly updated by the Bureau of Statistics need to be assimilated into the environmental information system.
2. Dissemination of environmental information to the public
An apparent lack of public awareness has been identified as a major constraint to integrating environmental considerations into decision-making. Without increasing community awareness, it is impossible to provide the political impetus for formulating and implementing appropriate environmental protection and management policies.
The Department of the Environment makes useful pieces of information on the environment available to the public through the media, usually with funds provided as part of an aid donor project. For example, it recently distributed “how to do it” pamphlets on composting. The Department has a regular weekend feature in the newspaper on the environment. The Department of Forests has organized a very popular Arbor Week for many years, while SPREP distributes posters in support of programmes to protect sea turtles. NGOs such as SPACHEE have features on the environment broadcast on the radio and printed in newspapers from time to time. However, the overall dissemination of public information on the environment is piecemeal in nature and generally limited to the English-speaking media.
Insufficient use is made of radio, the universal means of communication and information dissemination in Fiji, particularly outside urban areas. Radio provides an outstanding vehicle for distance education. Regular features on environmental issues need to be broadcast on the vernacular radio stations. Serialized radio drama programmes would be a popular way of raising community awareness of environmental issues. However, to be successful that would require the allocation of substantial resources.