Protect the environment, mitigate disasters
KUALA LUMPUR, 5 June 2011 – Torrential rains, swollen floods, earthquakes, and landslides continue to batter the world we live in, exacting a painful toll on the lives of people across the world, many of whom are children.
“He never had a chance to run”, cried 13-year old Mohd Alauddin Safi who lost his 10 year-old brother in the recent Hulu Langat landslides that buried 25 people. Only nine were saved including Mohd Alauddin. His brother was amongst 14 boys below 18 years who lost their lives while attending a motivational camp at an orphanage in the outskirts of the capital.
Experts believe the culprit behind the majority of landslides in Malaysia is deforestation due to uncontained development of hillslope areas. Malaysia however is not alone in this. The United Nations Environmental Program highlights that every year, 13 million hectares of forests – equal to the size of Portugal are destroyed in favour of short-term gains. Payback however can be the form of disasters that claim lives and shatter families as illustrated by the heartbreak in Hulu Langat.
Children typically represent 50-60 percent of those affected by disasters. Homes are lost, education disrupted, and there is a likely possibility of psychological trauma that will haunt their young lives for months and years to come. Sometimes, children are separated from their families, sometimes they end up orphaned. They may suffer from injuries that require amputation; or worse, lose their lives. Their deaths are not only a loss to their families, but also a loss to their communities and to the development of the nation as a whole.
If anything, changes in rainfall patterns, greater weather extremes and increasing floods seem to have intensified in 2011 pummeling us from all corners, from Australia to USA, Brazil to Sri Lanka. Malaysia has not been spared. In every country struck, natural disasters have impacted on the lives of children, and in the worst of cases, have eroded development gains and set back progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
UNICEF’s Representative to Malaysia, Mr. Hans Olsen points out that disaster risk reduction is a key climate change strategy when the number of children affected are projected to increase from an estimated 66.5 million per year in the late 1990s, to as many as 175 million per year by the end of this decade.
“Educating children about disaster risk and making it possible for them to practice that knowledge is a support to every child’s right to life, survival and development,” Mr. Olsen explains. “Risk reduction initiatives must be designed to educate families and children about simple and practical actions that can protect life and personal property in the event of a natural disaster.”
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and disaster risk reduction are mutually reinforcing according to Mr. Olsen. Children, he says, must be the first priority in risk reduction efforts.
“UNICEF recognises its crucial responsibility to integrate Disaster Risk Reduction across its work. At the global level, this has been integrated into our Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action. In Malaysia, we have supported the Ministry of Education in developing and distributing practical manuals and guidelines for teachers in case of natural disasters including regular training on emergency preparedness. It was the first time the education sector was used to put in place an emergency preparedness plan in schools nationwide.”
The five-point Children’s Charter launched recently in Geneva during the UN Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction underscores the need for such initiatives. Based on feedback from more than 600 children in 21 countries, the Charter states that child protection must be a priority before, during and after a disaster; community infrastructure must be safe, and relief and reconstruction support should aim at reducing future risk. And very importantly, disaster risk reduction must reach the most vulnerable.
“Economic and social development cannot be sustained if we are not cognizant of its impact on the environment, and on our children. In addition to protecting the environment, we must prepare for and mitigate the adverse effects of natural disasters, such as this recent landslide,” adds Mr. Olsen...............................................................................................
NOTE TO EDITOR:
World Environment Day 2011
For more information, please contact:
Indra Kumari Nadchatram