DEC argues for coverage of 'slow onset' disasters

The Disasters Emergency Committee is working with the media to find ways of launching appeals for what it calls "less televisual" and "slow onset" disasters.

At a meeting to discuss the DEC's new three-year strategy last week, its members agreed that earlier intervention was needed in many of the situations the committee covers if later loss of life was to be avoided.

Brendan Gormley, chief executive of the DEC, said: "Where you have a chronic tragedy slowly unfolding, humanitarian principles would say that you have to intervene as soon as possible, but our contract states that we have to wait until there is evidence of widespread public concern.

"Broadcasters have to wait until a story has legs before they can launch an appeal and, when they do, have a limited amount of air-time, and may have to rely on stereotypical language.

"We need to find ways to inform the public about more complicated disasters, instead of waiting until the stage where starving babies are shown on screen."

The proposal has been drawn up in response to the patchy media coverage of this year's famine in east Africa, which had the effect of preventing the DEC from launching an appeal.

"The story dribbled out, which meant an appeal couldn't be justified," said Gormley. "Two months later, parts of the media were asking us why we hadn't taken action sooner."

He emphasised that charities needed to communicate better. "It is our duty to tell our stories clearly and succinctly," he said.

The DEC has already met a number of unnamed broadcasters, and is due to hold another meeting in the new year.

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