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Reporting why disasters happen in Africa

Source(s):  United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Regional Office for Africa (UNDRR AF)

By Denis McClean

Arusha - For the last three weeks, the Maputo-based weekly newspaper "Domingo" has featured the Mozambique floods on its front page.

Domingo editor, Jorge Ernesto Rungo, was today able to give journalists from across Africa an insight into the challenges of covering one of the largest disasters to hit the country since the floods of 2000 when he spoke at the latest media training organized by UNISDR with the support of ECHO.

He carried with him a copy of last Sunday's newspaper which featured the disaster on the front and back pages with a further six pages of flood coverage inside. Much of the reporting focused on the significant minority of people who did not heed the early warnings.

Mr. Rungo showed a photograph of a family who have been camped out on the roof of their house for over a week and have refused all efforts to get them to move. The family live in the Chokwe District in Gaza Province.

In light of confirmed cases of cholera, the newspaper photograph gave rise to a lively discussion on how to cover the sanitation angle to flood disasters. "What are the consequences of a large family living in such a confined space for such a long time?" asked the Kenyan TV presenter and talk show host, David Owino.

"A lot of people who did not experience the floods of 2000 could not believe that floods were coming despite the warnings. They looked at the sky where there were no clouds and there was no rain. All the rain was falling in South Africa and Zimbabwe. The floods took them completely by surprise. Our newspaper is trying to play a role in educating people about disaster risk and the complex nature of the weather and how it impacts our river systems and our cities and towns," explained Mr. Rungo.

Even though the floods have taken a heavy toll -- 69 deaths and 213,000 displaced - most experts agree that Mozambique has coped well given the enormity of the challenge. Over 250,000 people have been evacuated and the death toll to date is well below the 700 lives lost in 2000.

Katherine Mueller, Communications Manager for Africa with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told the meeting: "The early warning systems put in place after 2000 are clearly working. Most people managed to get out in time but there is more work to be done and the Mozambique Red Cross is working flat-out delivering relief but also on raising awareness of the flood threat which will continue for the next month or two."

Mathews Malata, journalist with the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, said: "Environmental degradation is key to disaster risk in Malawi. Wanton chopping down of trees is often why disasters happen. People are also reluctant to move from hazard prone areas for cultural reasons.

"Government needs to push, enforce laws and make sure people are safe. I have learned that when you invest in disaster risk reduction you can make significant savings on your future losses. In Malawi, we have no policy for what kind of structures we should have in our cities to withstand major hazards. ...people are just building any place, any time. It's a lawless situation and it needs to be addressed by the authorities to make sure urban planning is safe."

Reflecting on the media training, Racheal Nakitare, Chief Producer with the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, said: "I have learned the difference between a natural hazard and a disaster. Disasters have a human face. Deaths can be prevented if everyone has access to early warnings. This is my role as a journalist."

She also remarked on the fact that there was no mention of disaster management in the previous night's televised debate between the eight Kenyan Presidential candidates. "If I had had this media training before I would have pushed for inclusion of a question on risk issues in Kenya where we suffer a lot from floods, drought and food security."

Ms. Nakitare who is also the President of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT), said: "Gender is an issue dear to my heart. Women and children bear the burden in disaster situations. We need to empower women in the media and at community level to be aware of both the risks from natural hazards and the underlying causes. We need a national disaster management policy in Kenya. We don't have an effective system in place and we rely mainly on the Red Cross and the private sector."

The 15 journalists from Botswana, the Congo, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe are remaining on after two days of briefings by a range of disaster management experts to cover the Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction which opens tomorrow.

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  • Publication date 12 Feb 2013

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