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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Friday, March 11, 2005

World's 'forgotten' crises cry out for attention

Online edition of Daily News - Lakehouse newspapers: "LONDON, March 10 (Reuters)

All emergencies are not created equal.

A tsunami of biblical proportions roars out of the Indian Ocean, kills up to 300,000 and prompts the public to empty their pockets like never before as media coverage goes into overdrive.
In contrast, war in Democratic Republic of Congo kills nearly 4 million and leaves thousands traumatised by rape and machete massacres, yet hardly registers in the global media.
Why do some humanitarian crises make the front pages while others wait in vain for their turn in the spotlight? "(A tsunami is) simpler, visual and more dramatic, in ways that both drought and conflict aren't," said Paul Harvey of the Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG), a British think tank.
A survey launched on Thursday by Reuters AlertNet, a humanitarian news service run by Reuters Foundation, highlighted 10 crises aid experts said had been neglected by global media.
The experts chose Congo, northern Uganda, western and southern Sudan, West Africa, Colombia, Chechnya, Nepal and Haiti as the most neglected humanitarian hotspots.
They also drew attention to the global AIDS pandemic and other infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.
Those polled cited a raft of reasons why some emergencies are "forgotten", not least the challenge of distilling complex crises such as Congo's down to simple soundbites or finding a thread of hope to help audiences empathise.
"The story is always the same," said Lindsey Hilsum, international editor of Britain's Channel 4 TV news. "It induces despair. It's expensive and dangerous, and one feels that there are no solutions and no end to it all." Analysts said long-running humanitarian crises were often difficult to package as fresh-sounding stories, while logistical problems and tight budgets could also put off news editors.
In countries such as Zimbabwe and Sudan, governments routinely refuse to give journalists visas, while reporting in Congo can mean hitching a ride on an aid plane, trekking through the jungle or guessing when the next ferry will arrive.
And all for a story unlikely to make the front page.

"If you had a similar natural disaster (to the tsunami) in Africa three months from now, I don't think you'd have the same media coverage (or) the same consequences, because it's only maybe once a year that the Western public is willing to be moved by disasters on that level," said Gorm Rye Olsen, a researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies.
In the meantime, stories of geopolitical importance such as Middle East turmoil and "the war on terror" hog what's left of the international news agenda, analysts say.
"The world's obsession with Iraq has pushed to the margins many other scenes of mass violence," said Gareth Evans, head of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank.
Without TV time, aid experts say the general public is unlikely to donate in large quantities, as they did after the tsunami when individual donations to charities outpaced initial offers from governments, leaving them rushing to catch up. "The media is a huge factor in getting people to be generous," Oxfam Great Britain's humanitarian funding manager, Orla Quinlan, said. "If they're visually engaged, that brings it home and makes it real to them."
But some researchers say the link between airtime or column inches and donations is not clear-cut. They said the tsunami was an anomaly because private donations are usually far outstripped by aid from governments and international institutions.
"Governments give aid in places with political and strategic interest to them," HPG's Harvey said. "That's why funding skyrocketed in Afghanistan after 9/11."
Nevertheless aid workers say better media coverage of low-profile humanitarian crises can still make a difference.
George Graham of International Rescue Committee UK said more coverage of Uganda's war - where aid agencies say more than 20,000 children have been abducted to serve as soldiers and sex slaves - could highlight it as a test case for an international criminal court.
"Greater media engagement could have a really positive effect," said Graham, IRC's East Africa programme officer.
Danish researcher Olsen quoted a letter from a Sudanese man, smuggled out during heavy fighting in the south: "It maybe a blessing to die in front of a camera - then at least the world will get to know about it," the letter read. "But it is painful to die or be killed without anyone knowing it." (For more news about emergency relief visit Reuters AlertNet http://www.alertnet.org email: alertnet@reuters.com; +44 207 542 9484) "


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