Role Of Media In Post Disaster Reconstruction And Rehabilitation
Yahya Ismail Khan
The last decade brought over 4000 natural disasters; the maximum number of natural disasters in the recorded history. These recent events are mostly attributed to climate change which is currently a very pressing issue. However, due to the ever increasing and relentlessly unceasing population, life and property losses have increased tremendously because of close proximity and urbanization in the face of a disaster. Recent disasters which have stricken Pakistan have economically retarded the country due to people displacement and their rehabilitation.
Media's role in constructing public perceptions of risk associated with natural hazards and terror borne disasters is undeniable and of acute importance. Media has an incumbent responsibly of spreading awareness to the masses and ever since the 2005 earthquake, which shook Pakistan, was the first incident of its kind and magnitude, media is now a little more prepared to handle such situations. All the national tragedies are embedded with opportunities. And so it was with the earthquake 2005. The dire situation held out the possibility of being a game changer in a number of ways. The most important way was to act as a spur for critical socio-economic reform. Given the colossal scale of the challenge and a chance to 'build back better', there could not have been a more compelling case or imperative to mobilise resources and galvanise public support for reform. The role to capitalize on a disaster in order to convert adversity into an opportunity is equally levied on both the media and the relief organizations working in the sector. Media throughout the world plays a vital role in disaster management by educating the public about disasters; warning of hazards; gathering and transmitting information about affected areas; alerting the government officials, relief organizations and the public to specific needs; and facilitating discussions about disaster preparedness and response. The common role of media in face of a disaster has often been discussed on various forums on the international and national levels. One such forum was spearheaded by Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) too.
The bridge from media theory to analysis is not easily traversed, hence realizing the sensitivity of the situation accurate and factual ground position of the disaster stricken area's should be reported so as to aid the agencies working there; comprising of the extent of damage, the condition of the affected people and highlighting the specific issues there which need to be urgently addressed. Media in this phase should work in close coordination with the government agencies verifying the information disseminated to avoid public panic. The timely, accurate and sensitive communication in face of natural hazards is a demonstrated, cost-effective means of saving lives, reducing property damage and increasing public understanding.
The initial disaster assessment in first step to recovery and rehabilitation, media played a vital role in reaching far flung areas where the earthquake had struck and brought real time on ground situation in purview of the Government and agencies so that comprehensive plan for rescue and relief could be expedited.
The most important role of media commences after the initial recovery has been done. The tragedy in Pakistan often strikes at the heart of the less fortunate. The earthquake also laid bare enduring fault lines and unaddressed issues that lay at the heart of the dual society the country has increasingly become. That the very poor are the most vulnerable in a natural disaster is an ineluctable reality. But what the earthquake also exposed was the abject poverty and sub-human conditions in which millions of people had been condemned to live by an oppressive social order and neglect – people whose destiny had been forfeited to the crushing burden of their daily lives.
ERRA in a drive to build back better picked up on these issues, keeping in mind that the scale of disaster was the first of its kind, started to work simultaneously in repairing the social fabric of the society along with the infrastructure. The concept of rehabilitation in its true essence was started first time in Pakistan. Over 300 field visits were arranged, to date, for the local and international media to keep them apprised of the progress on various sectors. With regular press conferences and hand outs, during all the phases of social and practical rehabilitation ERRA saw media's complete involvement on all levels- thus practically training it in post disaster mitigation.
Disaster mitigation is the ongoing effort to lessen the impact disasters have on people and property. Fewer people and communities would be affected by natural disasters with the use of this process. This is a long term phase and it ensures that natural hazards do not have to become natural disasters. Apart from the conventional role of the media in mitigation and preparedness, media is missing an essential non conventional role. In order to achieve the greater goal of mitigation media should seek to develop working relationships with scientific and disaster mitigation organizations based on mutual trust and the recognition of differing characteristics, goals and needs. Regular effective communication among these disparate groups, before, during and after disasters can greatly enhance those relationships. Special coverage of the work being done by these organizations and their success stories should be covered by media; the experiences shared via documentaries and print media. This adds to the portfolio of preparedness. Regular coverage and interaction will keep the masses perpetually appraised of the disaster trends, evasive techniques and new technologies which might help in face of a disaster.
Information disseminated by the media is shaped by many factors, most notably the characteristics of particular media forms as well as by journalistic and editorial practices. Satellite-driven television news and full-colour newspapers thrive on the rapid transmission of dramatic images from event scenes; if used correctly can help mould public perception, and sensitize the masses. Media should highlight the socio-economic woes of the victims in the disaster struck areas so that in the process of reconstruction and rehabilitation their social depravity can also be catered to. It remains an onus on the end of the media to keep the sentiments of the public alive to this cause by reminding the populous of the destruction and apprising them of the progress which have been made in various sectors.
ERRA's handling of disaster management should be treated as a case study in Pakistan, where media was not present in highlighting the socio-economic issues facing the crisis stricken areas. Nevertheless, ERRA's purview encompassed social sectors like gender mainstreaming, livelihood and social protection apart from reconstruction and physical rehabilitation. ERRA ensured media was kept up to date as harmonious coordination between the stakeholders and the media can equip a society to be better prepared for any natural hazard that might befall the county. The efforts of ERRA have been recognized internationally and ERRA was awarded the Sasakawa Award. By ensuring mitigation and preparedness the fury of nature needs not to be converted into a tragedy and loss of human life and property can be avoided to a great extent.