Bolster disaster risk reduction measures to protect the most vulnerable children
GENEVA/NEW YORK, 12 October 2010 – As the world marks the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction on 13 October, UNICEF today urged governments and civil society partners to step up efforts to help mitigate the impact of disasters – especially on children – by helping communities to become resilient, and more able to respond to disasters and changing climate conditions.
Children typically represent 50 to 60 per cent of those affected by disasters, whether through loss of life or from diseases related to malnutrition and poor water and sanitation—conditions that are exacerbated by disasters. In addition, disasters disrupt education and can cause psychological distress, and present issues of exploitation of children, creating more vulnerability.
Education, public awareness, community-based preparedness, teaching life skills, as well as disaster-resilient public buildings are all ways to reduce risk for children.
Redoubling efforts to reduce risk
UNICEF is redoubling efforts globally to reduce the risks associated disasters. In Bangladesh, more children die from drowning, than any other country in the world. Some 17,000 children drown each year. With risks increasing due to climate change, extreme weather patterns, frequent flooding and rising sea levels, UNICEF and its partners have taught Bangladeshi children how to swim. As of last year, 35,000 Bangladeshi children have been taught to swim, and many have learned life-saving techniques.
Recent trends show increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters: heat waves, floods, droughts, cyclones and earthquakes.
Climate change, particularly when coupled with underdevelopment, environmental degradation, and urbanisation, is becoming one of the most important drivers of disaster risk.
Schools are key
UNICEF is increasingly concerned that disasters are disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable, eroding hard-won development gains and setting back progress toward the Millennium Development Goals. High-income countries are exposed to 39 per cent of tropical cyclones while bearing only 1 per cent of the mortality risk. In comparison, low-income countries face 13 per cent of the exposure, but over 80 per cent of the mortality risk.
This year has already witnessed massive emergencies with the earthquake in Haiti and floods in Pakistan, as well as landslides in China and wildfires in Russia.
Schools have proven to be key avenues for disaster reduction implementation. UNICEF increasingly advocates for sustainable school construction and disaster-oriented education in risk-prone countries and regions.
Greater investment needed
In Madagascar, UNICEF and its partners engaged in training teachers and staff in minimum standards to follow in emergencies, distributing disaster risk manuals in schools and conducting needs assessments. As a result, in the aftermath of two cyclones last year, no school children were harmed and schooling in some regions was restored in just eight days.
In a separate effort in Zimbabwe, UNICEF is reviewing its WASH program from the perspective of disaster risk, preventing wells and latrines from being destroyed and reducing the likelihood of a disaster-related cholera outbreak.
Still, much more must be done to reduce disaster risk. Funding gaps, particularly in developing countries, persist. Some progress has been made through social funds and risk financing, but there needs to be much greater investment and commitment for disaster risk reduction...............................................................................................
NOTE TO EDITOR:
International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction
Newsline: Education in Emergencies