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‘Journalists have the burden of uncovering facts behind disasters’

For how long has the Bournemouth University of Disaster Management Centre been in existence and what are its main activities? The centre has been working…

For how long has the Bournemouth University of Disaster Management Centre been in existence and what are its main activities?
The centre has been working since 2001. We have been working in Nigeria for nearly 14 years now, so we have quite a long history of working and training with different government agencies here, in Nigeria.

As an experienced person in disaster situations all over the world, which parts of the world experience disasters?
I think it all depends on which type of disaster you mean or you are talking about. For example if you talk about earthquakes I would immediately think of Turkey, Japan, West Coast of America, Indonesia, Nepal, and Iran. These are places that are known to have large seismically active areas due to their location. Other countries if you think about floods, you will automatically think about Bangladesh, Pakistan and of course Nigeria. More recently, it had a really bad flood in 2012. Think about Hurricanes and Cyclones, the Caribbean, the Gulf States and Asia.
But when we talk about disasters we might mean major incidences like building collapses, road crashes, air transportation accidents, industrial accidents and others, then really the whole world has experienced them in large numbers and I think the lessons that have become so important today is how do we integrate our police, fire and rescue services and our medical services in a way that we can respond day-to-day to these major incidences.
The media call them disasters and in many cases even government ministries call them disasters. But they are not disasters in the sense that they are rare events. These things happen on a regular basis, so I will say these things happen all over the world, including Nigeria.

What should be the role of the media in disaster situations apart from the daily reportage of disasters?
As a disaster manager,  I would say the role of the media is to inform the public, and that will be a very important activity to do in order to help drive constructive community activity  to help us make sure that people know all the facts about what is going on and what is being done and what they may be required to do. Information dissemination is the most crucial key element in disaster situations because it is used to issue warnings even before a disaster like wether situation reports about a possible hurricane or a typhoon as it progresses.
The media had a vital role in the area of risk reduction. Government ministries and agencies are forever putting out information to the public. It is rare that the public read or take notice of those pieces of information because they are often quite down, but the media has a way of putting things in a better way that the public will take notice of them. So the media could have a very important role in taking essential information, helping to win the hearts and minds of people so that they understand what they need to do. I think the media has another vital role of finding out what was the exact circumstances of a disaster. Why does it happen? What were the reasons for it?
Because we do need to hold some persons responsible the decision making that might have put people in a vulnerable place. Although not every human induced disaster may occur as a result of poor decision making but where it is, it should be uncovered and the necessary action taken. So in that sense, I think the media have an investigative role to play.

Looking at the media in the 21st century, how do you see the challenges being faced by the traditional media vis-a-vis the development of instantaneous message sharing in the cyberspace in disaster situations all over the world?
I think the role of the media has changed dramatically with regards to disaster management and that is very simple because of the development of social media, Smartphones, Internet based media. All of these things have completely changed what we mean by the word media. I think from the disaster management point of view we must move on from the 1980s thinking about the media, and in the 1980s we might safely say that the only person who needs to speak to the media is the boss, because he or she is the only person who knows what is going on and therefore the news reporter, the journalist will go to him, be briefed by him and that’s the news. Today that has changed. In 2014,the media, the official media, the National Television Authority(NTA) of Nigeria often find themselves behind the power curve.
The images of what is actually happening on the ground will already be available on the Internet long before the traditional media managed to get to the story. Increasingly, the traditional media is turning to the Internet  to extract those images for themselves, they don’t take the images, the public did,  so we are finding the media as a new creature. We must have new strategies to ensure that we don’t lose legitimacy as to what our decisions are and we don’t lose relevance. And I think it is of much challenge for you in the media as it is for those in government and those in charge of disaster management. Seconds after an aircraft crashes, pictures will be on the Internet taken by a passenger who survives or an observer on the ground.
Minutes after you can have videos of the same air crash uploaded by individuals from the scene and government is yet to respond and the public have already seen live images going out across the Internet.
The role of the media has changed and that means we need to train more and more people to give competent interviews to the media to say what is going on without making undue predictions about the future, because if they don’t know, they don’t know. But the reality is that the images are out there and we have to make the sense of those images to the public and that is the role of the media.

Disaster have a multiplier effect, which means that  it affects so many sectors like the socio-economic and sometimes political sectors of governments. How do you think ideally the government should act in terms of coordination to confront disasters?
At government level, the ideal is that the central government  should provide policy and direction for national emergency management across all its ministries and agencies.
That exists here in Nigeria, I have no doubt. But that policy and direction has to be worked out across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) so it has to be taken and adopted, adjusted and developed at the states level. Each governor must have his or her own disaster management plan because his or her own job is to be able to react or response to disasters in his domain using available resources without waiting for anybody from the central government whose response may be delayed in coming. Therefore, a state government must be able to take care of its people with its available resources in times of disasters before other assistance arrive because disasters have a great tendency of overwhelming even the strongest and the most economically vibrant governments especially the natural disasters.
They must also identify such disasters, which if they struck, would need an immediate outside help from neighbouring states and their probability and frequency of occurrence. Some disaster may require coordination at the state or regional level or might require a national intervention through NEMA.

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