Engaging children in disaster risk reduction
Bangkok, 13 October 2011 – This year’s International Day for Disaster Reduction focuses on children and young people and the positive contribution they are making in reducing community vulnerabilities to natural hazards.
UNICEF’s Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific, Anupama Rao Singh, said while children were among the most vulnerable groups in emergencies, they also have practical and innovative ideas that help mitigate the impact of disasters.
“Addressing children’s vulnerabilities in emergencies is not new,” Rao Singh said. “But focusing more on children as partners in disaster risk reduction is an important and much-needed development.”
“Young people have a right to be involved in decisions affecting their lives. In disaster risk reduction, in particular, children need to be seen not just as potential victims, but as a vital resource. Children across the Asia-Pacific – the region most prone to earthquakes, floods, tropical storms, drought and other natural hazards – can contribute greatly by helping identify what can be done to better protect communities,” she said.
In May 2011, a Children’s Charter on Disaster Risk Reduction was launched at the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN ISDR) Global Platform in Geneva. The Charter, developed through consultations with over 600 children from 21 countries, calls on governments and their development partners to prioritize and include children in DRR programming.
The Charter features a five-point checklist of children’s priorities for disaster risk reduction: safe schools; child protection; participation and access to information; safe infrastructure; and protection for the most vulnerable.
A number of UNICEF offices across the region are marking International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction on 13 October to highlight the need for concerted action to reduce the loss of human lives and property in disasters.
In Manila, UNICEF is working to promote the Children’s Charter on DRR together with local disaster management and education officials and NGOs. In Hanoi, UNICEF translated the Charter into Vietnamese to support national awareness-raising activities with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Youth Pioneer Council and local school children.
In Bangkok, UNICEF joined an international day programme hosted by UN ISDR and ASEAN, which included a children’s dialogue on DRR and talks among Thai officials on practical steps to better protect communities and cities. This is especially pertinent given the historic flooding taking place in Thailand this month, and the impact it is having on communities and children.
Erik Kjaergaard, UNICEF Senior Disaster Risk Reduction Specialist for Asia and the Pacific, said the international day events on 13 October are important in building further momentum for engaging children in developing national and local DRR policies and action plans.
UNICEF is working with Asia-Pacific governments to meet the commitments they made at November 2010’s High-Level Meeting on South-South Cooperation for Child Rights in Beijing. The 28 countries at the meeting agreed to increase cooperation to better integrate in development planning practical measures to reduce the impact of hazards on communities and children.
Kjaergaard said there are numerous positive initiatives in the region that should be shared and adapted by other countries. In the Philippines, for example, education authorities are providing young people with a stronger voice in making their lives safer and their communities more resilient to disasters. In Bangladesh, programmes are helping ensure children’s participation in local-level disaster mitigation processes, including disseminating early warning alerts and promoting safer communities.
At regional level, Kjaergaard said UNICEF saw its partnership with ISDR as a valuable way of engaging key disaster management officials from across the Asia-Pacific region.
The 6-8 September ISDR Asia Partnership meeting in Pattaya, attended by more than 30 disaster management officials from the region, had been an important forum for exchanging best practice and discussing the major challenges in child-centred DRR. Thailand’s Department of Disaster Mitigation and Prevention, UNICEF, UNESCO, Plan International and Save the Children had facilitated a joint session in Pattaya on child-centred DRR.
Kjaergaard welcomed the positive initiatives by the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which are developing robust frameworks for both the protection and participation of children in disaster risk management.
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