That media could play a positive role in reducing damages from natural disasters was adequately highlighted during a three-day media summit held in the capital last week. The summit proceedings, however, did not get adequate media focus possibly due to other serious events drawing newsmen's attention. Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU), Bangladesh Television and Bangladesh Betar jointly organised the summit.
The third ABU Media Summit pleaded for producing creative and quality programmes on climate change and disaster risk reduction. These programmes could help deal effectively with potential dangers of natural calamities as well as other environment related negative consequence, it said. Experts from ABU member-countries strongly favoured dissemination of vital data on subjects of climate change and disaster risk reduction so as to draw attention of the vulnerable population.
The Dhaka summit recognised the fundamental role of media in making disaster risk reduction efforts successful through efficient dissemination of relevant information. Pre-disaster awareness-raising through media is crucial since there is no adequate preparedness in the event of a climate change-induced disaster. Media and other information channels can play an effective role in disseminating information on weather events making those easily understandable to the people. Early warning of cyclones along the coastal areas of Bangladesh has succeeded in evacuating vulnerable population and thus greatly reducing losses in men and materials. Media quite effectively drew attention of relevant agencies to do's and don'ts during the recent catastrophic flash floods in Haor (wetland) areas.
In fact, the ABU summit has brought to the fore the media's leadership role in changing the mindset of society and making it more proactive rather than reactive. The media, electronic and print ones, also has the responsibility to make the message more valuable and credible for the general public. Sensational and hyped news can give birth to another crisis in the form of chaos and fear, causing more losses.
Of late, there has been a phenomenal growth of electronic media channels in Bangladesh. The electronic media has an outreach to the masses, being present in every nook and corner of the country, and it is playing a comprehensive role in opinion making. One major contribution that the electronic media can make is establishment of early warning systems in far-flung and disaster-prone areas. Radio channels can play a primary role, as they have an outreach to most remote areas. The media contribution can lead to the development of a more robust community, which is more aware and educated about disaster preparedness and mitigation.
The role of media is vital for overall promotion of a better disaster management regime in a country. The role of print media cannot be neglected as it has been observed that receivers of the information have more trust in the written message than the word of mouth. The information given in newspapers is perceived as a reliable advice and people take it more seriously.
Another much neglected aspect during the pre- and post-disaster activities is the lack of communication and coordination among humanitarian organisations, development partners and state agencies. This leads to duplication of efforts along with lack of effective work on ground, particularly in the sensitive areas. Improved communication among various organisations is a must, but that is only possible in pre-hazard period. There must be identified focal persons and departments dedicated for such coordination. For disaster mitigation or response, focal persons can remain in contact with partner organisations and government officials for effective measures.