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Tackling natural disasters

Disasters and their impacts are increasing at an alarming rate. The media has the tremendous strength to highlight disaster-related issues, and can even aid the process of disaster management successfully. A consequential responsibility rests on the shoulders of the management, which is one of the pivotal communication links between the management and the general public. It is extremely essential to ensure consistent interpretation and reporting of basic disaster information by media practitioners.

Recently, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Pakistan organized a consultative workshop on media and disasters, involving active environmental journalists in Pakistan. The workshop aimed to have their views on disaster reporting and how to further improve it, loopholes and the way forward.

The workshop recommended that scientific and disaster mitigation organizations should seek to develop working relationships with the media, based on mutual trust and the recognition of different characteristics, goals and needs. Regular, effective communication between these groups, before, during and after disasters can greatly enhance those relationships.

The workshop further highlighted that journalists need to be educated about complex scientific information, so that they are able to explain it to a broader audience. Another important issue highlighted was that environmental journalist need to be in touch with various disaster management experts and relevant sources for expert views so that such information can be disseminated to the public.

According to Dr. Muhibuddin Usamah, Disaster Risk Management (DRM) Specialist, UNDP Pakistan:

‘The forecaster, these days have gained ability to predict – the media has covered the nearly term prediction and relief planning phrases of the event in the developed countries. Media has significantly improved the level and sophistication of pre and post disaster coverage in recent years by using new technology and consulting technical experts to be able to describe the causes and mitigation of disaster.’

The Tampere Declaration on Disaster Communications was pledged in 2012 after a three-day conference titled International Disaster Communications: Harnessing the Power of Communications to Avert Disasters and Save Lives. Experts from 25 countries met in Tampere, Finland. The declaration addressed the urgent need to coordinate and improve national and international communications capabilities to reduce loss of life and damage to property and the environment due to human-induced and natural disasters.

‘Journalists involved in disaster reporting must possess a detailed understanding of the different types of disasters and related terms and using them accurately and in a way that audiences will understand’ added Muhi.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), with support from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is currently implementing a 2-year project under One-UN DRM Joint Programme which seeks to strengthen the national disaster risk management system through policy-level inputs, research, capacity building, and community based initiatives. The first phase of this program was implemented in 2005 right after the earthquake in Pakistan but at that time there were limited human resources available, who could understand disaster management and had skills to manage it. This program ended in 2008 bringing fruitful results in disaster management. The second phase of DRM started in 2015 and will end in 2017; however there is a great appetite for it due to the enormous potential that lies within.

The most important is the fact that Pakistan is highly vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events, which is also testified by Germanwatch which in its latest Global Climate Risk Index 2017 highlighted that Pakistan stood at number seven (7) in the list of top ten countries most vulnerable to climate change from 1996 to 2015 (long-term average). Most notable is the fact that in this 20 year period Pakistan faced 133 extreme weather events, which led to losses worth US $ 3.8 Bn.

One of the activities of UNDP Pakistan’s program include imparting training on disaster reporting to correspondents of print and electronic media based in vulnerable districts across Pakistan, so there can be a better understanding of the dynamic soft disaster and disaster management in Pakistan.

Zaheer, Sadia. Tackling natural disasters. The Nation, February 8, 2017.

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