|© UNICEF Indonesia/2007/Estey|
|After suffering violence in the past, Sri Rahmadani, 10, now finds going to school safe and enjoyable.|
Preparing for disasters and reducing risk
Increasingly, UNICEF is supporting initiatives to predict and prevent natural disasters and civil conflicts – and to be better prepared, should they occur. This new emphasis was spurred in part by the devastation and loss of life caused by the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in December 2004 as well as the potential disaster posed by avian and pandemic influenza. In many cases, concerted global action, combined by education at the grassroots level, can help alleviate suffering and save lives. For example, intensive international collaboration is currently under way to establish early warning systems for tsunamis. Simultaneously, UNICEF is supporting efforts that will help people reduce risks and deal with the emergency if and when another tsunami occurs. Through life skills-based education in schools, children are not only learning what tsunamis are and when and where they are most likely to occur, but also what to do before, during and after a tsunami hits.
In the case of avian and pandemic influenza, United Nations agencies have assembled a comprehensive preparedness plan. UNICEF’s responsibility, by and large, involves the dissemination of information about the potential pandemic, and actions to avert its spread, through schools. Much has been learned in this regard through our experience with the AIDS epidemic, where spreading information, increasing protective factors and reducing risk factors have become the main instruments for addressing HIV prevention. In fact, education is now regarded as a ‘social vaccine’ against the spread of the epidemic. Work is currently under way to review and overhaul life skills-based education as a means of promoting more effective prevention programmes, addressing both specific determinants of behaviour and underlying social, economic and cultural drivers.
Addressing the underlying causes of conflict
UNICEF has major programmes in virtually every conflict-affected country in the developing world today. In post-crisis transitions, a key strategy has been to quickly resume schooling as a way to help children deal with whatever trauma they have experienced and return some sense of normalcy to their lives. Where appropriate, landmine awareness, including coping and protection skills, has become part of the life skills curriculum that UNICEF is promoting. Malaria and cholera awareness may also be included. UNICEF is also tackling the roots of conflict in countries worldwide, starting with children in their formative years. Through life skills-based ‘peace education’, girls and boys are learning how to avoid, mediate and resolve conflicts. They are also examining the causes of conflict, the relative merits of cooperation and competition, and the place of trust in positive interpersonal relationships.