The availability of multi-hazard early warning systems and credible disaster risk information and risk-informed preparedness plans for many countries especially in West Africa is almost non-existent. The West African region being categorized as one with rapid growing population has provoked a progressive rate of urbanization which has exposed the region to further disaster risks as decongestion has overstretched basic amenities. According to Mohammed Ibrahim, Head of Division, Humanitarian and DRR for ECOWAS Commission Abuja, the media has a key role to play in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), noting that this role has been undermined especially in Africa as media participation in many instances is only considered and visible during the occurrence of disaster. This training is an opportunity to start the practical engagement of the media on prevention of disaster risks and not just during disaster occurrence. The Newsroom is not just a crises communication, but to be actively involved in the whole process, that is; in the disaster crises and the post recovery process as an effective early warning tool.
It is evident that natural hazards cannot be prevented. However, the impact of natural hazards when they become disasters, thereby increasing exposure and vulnerability of the population cannot be over-emphasized. Therefore, a coordinated effort from local and national players with the effective participation of the media is needed for credible disaster risk reduction information sharing. Isabel Njihia is a Representative for United Nations Disaster Risk Reduction who said there is nothing like ‘Natural Disaster’ noting that from a professional view there are ‘Natural Hazards’ which effects result to disasters. She explained that Hazards are mostly driven by nature but are technologically motivated sometimes. Disaster on the other hand, Isabel Njihia continued, comes in to play when the natural hazards interact with exposed investments and infrastructure which lead to the destruction of lives, properties and great economic loss. Disaster in recent times has considered being one of the retrogressive forces to development that continues to crumple many countries in Africa and the wider world. To submerge the negative impacts of the frequent disaster occurrence in Africa, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 in Africa is an inter-governmental approach of 158 governments globally adopted as a framework of action. Among the 7 Global targets, the document is yearning to substantially reduce the number of people affected by disaster and the direct and indirect losses in terms of disaster incidents globally, and as well improve preparedness for effective response and build better recovery mechanisms.
It is undeniable that governments in the sub-region prefer to spend more on humanitarian response and relief than investing in disaster risks prevention. However, the media plays a key role in holding government to account in the interest of national development devoid of selfish sentiments. In that regard, one of the participants Olusoji Adeniyi submitted no matter the level of development a country makes, if disaster risks are not mitigated years of development is bound to be wiped out overnight. In that light, governments in Africa need to make sufficient budgets, adequate structures and visible projects that are disaster risks reduction sensitive.
Active participation of journalists in Disaster Risk Reduction sensitization would make the newsroom not just a crisis communication tool but a partner in the whole process to ensure communities are aware of the hazards that surround disaster and how to mitigate the eminent risks associated with hazards. Ama Kudom-Aagyemang another participant cautioned that journalists are always in a hurry to get news out which sometimes prevent them from getting the relevant elements of the story to the public. She further recommended slow but accurate journalism that would bring out credible and newsworthy information.
ECOWAS believes that even though response to disaster is important, there must be a balance in the area of prevention and response as it is better to prevent than to respond.