Social distancing is not a new phenomenon. In the 1600s when the plague hit the UK Charles II issued public rules and orders that included quarantine and social distancing. Of course, we’ve come a long way from the middle ages. Thankfully, we don’t have to rely on priests and rumours or even town criers to learn what’s happening in our own country or distant lands.

Indian papers

Photo by Rishabh Sharma for Unsplash

But as we learned from past catastrophes, I am certain there is a lot we could learn from our present plight. I, for one, am observing and learning from the vital role clear and actionable communication plays in how successful an approach is within a particular context. This crisis, unlike the SARS or Ebola crises, is omnipresent and every single country needs to face it head-on. Hence the aspects that do work and those that don’t could be used to improve how we communicate about climate change the world over.

Over the coming weeks I’d like to document what I’ve observed and some of my key take-aways.

Revisiting the basics – language of information

This is something I took a little for granted. I thought “we know what language we need to use there’s no need to revisit that”. But the current situation has made me look at it with fresh eyes.

In Stockholm, Sweden, for example, a high percent of Somali-Swedes died after testing positive for Covid-19. It’s emerged that the areas hosting larger multi-cultural populations seem to be a lot more susceptible to the disease. Upon examining why this is the case, the governing authorities have found that one of the contributing factors is that the ever-changing information and guidelines around the situation, disseminated by the government, are primarily in Swedish. Information relevant to Stockholm in Somali or even English (I rely heavily on google translate and The Local in Sweden) is sparse.

After realising this, amongst other things, Sweden’s public broadcaster SVT introduced English subtitles to their current affairs programme. And several different public and private organisations are now making information available in English and several other languages, including Somali.

Will this reduce the number of Somali-Swedes being infected? Time will tell. I hope it does.

In the face of a pandemic, it becomes clear just how important it is to revisit and critically identify the languages of one’s target audience down to the smallest minority. Is the information accessible to absolutely everyone? I believe, this lesson holds true for communication regarding the climate crisis too. Every single individual needs to be in the loop. Or at least have access to it, should they choose to learn more about it.

COVID-19 has shown that in times of crises it could save lives.

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