9 March 2023

Biases in the reporting of landslide disasters

Posted by Dave Petley

Biases in the reporting of landslide disasters

The enduringly wonderful Save the Hills blog, which is the website of “a group of concerned citizens who are raising awareness about landslides in Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya of northern India“, has a very interesting article about biases in the reporting of landslide disasters in India.  Written by Shreya Gurung, it draws upon research undertaken a few years ago (Eisensee and Stromberg 2007) that demonstrated that for the US Media different hazards require different levels of human loss to receive coverage.  Thus, for example, a volcanic eruption with small numbers of fatalities is likely to receive more coverage than a landslide with a similar toll.  The 2007 article also highlighted a well-known geographical bias, with disasters in Europe and North America commanding more attention than those is poorer countries.

Shreya Gurung has examined reporting in a reputable national Indian news source, The Times of India, and has investigated the rate of reporting of landslides in different parts of the country, focusing on Pune, Uttarakhand, Darjeeling and Mizoram. She has overlain the results on a landslide hazard zonation map of India:-

Biases in media reporting of landslides in India.

Biases in media reporting of landslides in India. Graphic by Shreya Gurung via Save the Hills.


The results show that whilst Uttarakhand had 1,573 news articles, Darjeeling had just 198.  The author also cited working at the academic reporting of landslides by region across India (cited in the article as Abhirup et al. 2020 but actually Dikshit et al. 2020, I think), finding that Uttarakhand represents 51% of the total, with Kalimpong and Darjeeling representing 15%.

Now, this is of course not a definitive study – it is blog post after all.  It would be interesting to compare these results with actual recorded landslides (my own global landslide database could be used to do this – it’s freely available).  Uttarakhand has been the site of a series of terrible accidents, including the 2013 Kedarnath disaster, but there have been dreadful events in other areas too.  Shreya Guring notes that many of the reports are associated with landslides on major roads, which may account for some of the bias. The clear implication is that the reporting of landslides is disproportionately weighted toward Uttarakhand, which of course is the closest of the four areas to the capital city of Delhi.

The article is rightly picking up a core issue about biases in reporting of hazards. This bias then probably translates into a misunderstanding in wider society about the range and scope of landslides.  Understanding these biases, and their impacts, is an important area of research, as is approaches that could be used to correct them.  Save the Hills, and Shreya Gurung, are to be commended for raising such a key topic.



Eisensee, T. and Strömberg, D. 2007. News Droughts, News Floods, and U. S. Disaster Relief, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 122 [2], 693–728, https://doi.org/10.1162/qjec.122.2.693.

Dikshit, A., Sarkar, R., Pradhan, B., Segoni, S. and Alamri, A.. 2020. Rainfall Induced Landslide Studies in Indian Himalayan Region: A Critical Review Applied Sciences 10 [7], 2466. https://doi.org/10.3390/app10072466.