Covering disasters: Expert tells media not to focus on death toll
MANILA, Philippines – A disaster risk reduction expert said on Thursday, March 1, journalists covering disasters should go beyond reporting mass casualties, complaining that they fail to look at other forms of losses.
"I’ve always been asking media: why is it that when they cover hazards and their impacts, they only cover those that have deaths?” said Dr Alfredo Mahar Francisco Lagmay, director of the University of the Philippines' Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards (UP NOAH) project, responding to a question at the ASEANnale forum at the University of the Philippines-Diliman.
"If there are mass casualties in a certain area, they report it repeatedly. For good reason: it’s captivating. They earn money from it,” he added.
Lagmay compared the media coverage of super typhoons Haiyan and Lawin: “[In Lawin], there were not many deaths, but there were lots of losses in agriculture and livestock and crops, etc. And they didn't cover that. What happened was that there was not a lot of aid to help people who were suffering from their losses, in terms of crops and livestocks.”
Fact Check: Media organizations, not just Rappler, also report on housing and infrastructure damage, as well as agriculture, and fisheries losses. These information are routinely included in the updates issued by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, as well as by various departments.
Below are samples of Rappler reports on some of the biggest disasters:
- Damage to agriculture due to Mayon now at P185 million
- Agriculture damage from Urduja reaches P1 billion
- Urduja, Vinta caused P1.24B in agricultural damage
- P2-M worth of agricultural damage in CAR after typhoons Gorio and Huaning
- Super Typhoon Lawin leaves P4.7B agri damage in Isabela
- Damage from Typhoon Lando soars to P6B
- Typhoon Ruby: P90M estimated agri damage in Bicol region
- Luis damage to agri ‘minimal’ at P410M
- P9B needed for agri, fisheries in Yolanda areas
Disaster beat reporters needed
Lagmay also emphasized the importance of having experienced reporters covering disasters.
"On media practitioners.... I've always said to NDRRMC, that there should be a mainstay in NDRRMC. Because every time we talk to them, they are newbies. They don't know what happened in the past and they have to upgrade their knowledge about disasters, concepts, hazards, and so on and so forth,” he said.
According to him, it’s important that there are "permanent" people reporting on disasters.
"What's happening now is, because people get transferred from one place to another, the people that we need to communicate disasters and disaster-related information, we lose that opportunity to be able to get the people to be informed well. And sometimes, that information could be critical,” Lagmay said.
The Philippines is a disaster-prone country, battered by about 20 tropical cyclones every year. In 2015, a research showed that 8 of the 10 most disaster-prone cities in the world are in the country.
Lagmay presented on Thursday 2010 data from the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, which showed that the Philippines is the most disaster-prone among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation. – Rappler.com