Experts call for innovative ways to communicate disaster risks

Jun 7, 2013

Dr. Orlando Mercado, international expert on communicating disaster risks, and former Defense Minister of Philippines, shares his experience on communicating disaster risk. Photo credit: UNDP Nepal

Kathmandu - Journalists and risk communication experts have called for innovative ways to communicate disaster risks in the media—stressing on the need for both journalists and development practitioners to ‘think outside the box’ in their effort to raise public awareness and influencing policy making.

“Media shapes our perception of risk and that the risk that kills us are not necessary the risk that scare us the most,” said Dr. Orlando Mercado, an international expert on communicating disaster risks. “We have to think outside the box and need to go beyond the traditional communication,” Dr. Mercado said. “Communication needs to be targeted and creative, and that whatever we are communicating needs to be engaging so that it can go viral.”

Dr. Mercado, a former Defense Minister of Philippines who led the National Disaster Coordination Committee in 1998, was speaking at UNDP Nepal Dialogue Series on the theme of “Role of Media in Communicating Disaster Risks,” in Kathmandu on Friday.

Mr. Ajay Bahadra Khanal, Editor-in-Chief of The Himalayan Times, called for the need of building capacity of journalists so that they can effectively report on disaster risks. But he also pointed to the information overdose and fatigue among audience because of lack of targeted dissemination of information. He called for collaboration between journalists, risk assessors and first responders to build capacity of journalists to accurately report on disasters. 

UNDP Country Director Ms. Shoko Noda stressed on the crucial role of media in helping the public in perceiving the risks in their true gravity. “Nepal is one of the 20 most vulnerable countries of the world in terms of natural disasters. Yet for the public, the risk remains masked in an abstract statistics.  It is also partly the media’s job to help the public understand how statistics could potentially translate into personal tragedies,” Ms. Noda said.

Nepal is a disaster prone country, yet inability to adequately communicate disaster risks in the media has resulted in little risk sensitization among general public—contributing to policy paralysis and slow improvement in the level of disaster preparedness. 

Ms. Noda spoke of the crucial role media plays in “creating that environment where disaster preparedness is constantly on the radar of the development community, policy makers and public.”

The audience, which comprised of academics, policy makers, journalists and development experts, engaged in a vibrant discussion.

Giving both the journalists and development experts nuggets of advice on effectively communicating disaster risks, Dr Mercado stressed on humanizing the risks, adding that ‘ a crisis should never be allowed to go to waste’. He was quoting Chicago Mayor and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.


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