Thursday, August 2, 2007

Pakistan: Devastating floods fail to move media

Inter Press Service: "Media is not interested in human suffering where the process of death is slow," lashes out Sadiqa Salahuddin, director of the Indus Resource Centre, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), working in the flood-affected area of Sindh, in Pakistan.

"Bomb blasts and suicide bombings keep the media riveted. Instant images of blood and gore, make for headline news; stories of the poor don't have that effect," she says blaming them for neglecting their job to highlight the issue of the recent floods.

Khawer Khan, a reporter from a private TV channel, Dawn News, who covered the floods two days after a tropical cyclone, Yemyin, struck southwest Pakistan in the provinces of Balochistan and Sindh on Jun. 23, ruefully admits: "The country's political climate seems to be very distracting at the moment" with the result the natural calamity "didn't get the due coverage".

"I didn't bump into any journalists when I first reported about the devastation in Jhal Magsi (one of the worst affected districts in Balochistan), which was completely inundated. No relief had reached even after I left the area and called a few days later," says Khan.

The state-run National Disaster Management Authority's (NDMA) disaster reduction advisor, Zubair Murshid, echoes similar views. "The Lal Masjid episode (on Jul. 10 and 11, troops were used to flush out pro-Taliban militants from the mosque in Islamabad) which involved 500 people consumed all media attention."

"And, the 30,000 flood victims of Jhal Magsi, around the same time, who needed immediate evacuation and were equally at risk of imminent death, remained unreported," he says. News of the flood havoc did not make it to the headlines of a single national newspaper, he adds.

The NDMA puts the death toll at roughly 319, with nearly 2.5 million people affected and 367,394 displaced.

…"What's unfortunate (about the media) is that loss of livelihood (in the floods) is a poor man's issue, and doesn't make for enough sensational news. For most, the poor are already suffering and there is nothing news worthy here," Salahuddin says.

…Thousands of flood victims are still in need of relief while the government has declared the relief phase to be over by Jul. 31. "The government reporting depicts a rather positive picture that there are no big relief needs any longer and that it should focus on recovery," observes Kilian Kleinschmidt, assistant representative, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

He would like to see the government accept foreign assistance. "The reluctance of the government to allow aid agencies to help" is "affecting donor readiness to provide funding", he concludes.

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