Under-resourced media are failing rural people in developing countries, who are most vulnerable to climate change and in greater need of information to protect themselves from more intense cyclones and longer droughts, according to a new study.
"Journalists need resources and support from their editors to access rural areas to find out how people ... are coping and adapting to climate change - these stories might be relevant to people living in another part of the world," said Mike Shanahan, press officer for the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), who contributed to the study, Climate Change and the Media.
"The general picture painted by the most recent research is that while coverage of climate change in non-industrialized countries is increasing, the quantity and quality of reporting do not match the scale of the problem," he wrote. There was a reliance on Western news agencies rather than locally relevant news, although Indian newspapers were an exception.
"This, coupled with sparse coverage of adaptation, has implications for the world's poor, who urgently need information to prepare for the impacts of climate change." According to the World Bank, three out of four poor people in developing countries live in rural areas.
Some Mozambican farmers viewed climate change as a punishment from God or a consequence of the 16-year civil war, Shanahan said, citing a study by the Panos Institute Southern Africa, an independent regional information and communication organization which interviewed the farmers.
Panos found that local journalists rarely covered climate change, yet Mozambique is listed among the five low-income countries most vulnerable to sea-level rise and storm surges caused by climate change.
An examination of Vietnamese media in 2006 found no investigative reporting on climate change and no mention of vulnerability or adaptation. "The reports did not relate climate change to local settings or the everyday lives of Vietnamese people, and they explained the science poorly," the study commented. "The consequence will be that when the impact of climate change gets worse, it will come as a big surprise to the people," Shanahan told IRIN.
"It is a tragedy that media organizations are unable to cover climate change, which is having a tremendous impact on the livelihoods of people in developing countries," said Foster Dongozi, president of the Southern African Journalists' Association.
"Lack of information and training forces journalist to shy away from it, and editors will often prioritize political or sports stories rather than climate change stories," he said.
IIED's Shanahan commented: "The perception that climate change was just an environment or science story has to change - it now encompasses the economy, health, security and more; it is now a major political story."
coverage of adaptation, has implications for the world's poor, who
urgently need information to prepare for the impacts of climate change
Getting the information across
The unfolding impact of climate change is unprecedented, and the need to generate a pool of information that can be shared is critical. Radio, with its enormous reach and use of local languages, is a vital tool in getting information to vulnerable rural people.
In Nigeria in October 2008, the African Radio Drama Association began broadcasting a 26-part serial, which included practical information about adapting to climate change, to a rural radio audience of 200,000. "After each episode, listeners can join a call-in discussion programme and put their questions to a local expert," Shanahan wrote.
The Nigerian programme is funded by international donors; with adequate financial support such initiatives could be replicated. "We realized ... [what] penetration radio has in Africa," said Mary O'Neill, Communications Officer of the Climate Change Adaptation in Africa (CCAA) programme, run by the Canada-based International Development Research Centre (IDRC).
In 2008, IDRC funded a radio project in western Kenya, which broadcast "consensus forecasts", developed by the Nairobi-based Climate Prediction and Application Centre (ICPAC), and the rainmakers of the Nganyi clan, who live in western Kenya.
"Communities that have based their seasonal planning for generations on indigenous knowledge are wary of outsiders who claim to know better, and who speak a technical language far removed from the needs of rural people," O'Neill said.
The integrated forecast and advisories were translated into the local Luhya language and Kiswahili, and aired on the Luhya language service of Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and Mulembe FM radio, accompanied by interviews with a community leader.
Governments often lacked the resources to run such projects on their own, but donor agencies were "increasingly supporting efforts to train journalists in non-industrialized countries to get to grips with the scientific and political complexities of climate change," wrote Shanahan.
The CCAA is a partnership between IDRC and Britain's Department for International Development that has attempted to bring African researchers and journalists together for joint training to spread information on climate change and adaptation.
Shanahan said it was time the media in developing countries adapted, and that "the sources of funding and news on which they ... depend" would have to change.