Year in year out, typhoons batter Faye’s hometown in the Philippines. Along with many others, she’s had to flee her home, abandon her belongings and rush to evacuation centers – unsure of what she and her family may come back to. In Fiji, Temo lost her house and school when a powerful cyclone made landfall.
These aren’t one-off examples. Natural disasters are on the rise across the East Asia and Pacific region, and a growing number of children are suffering the consequences of more frequent and severe storms, floods, droughts, heatwaves and more. They are witnessing their homes, schools and hospitals being destroyed, their food supply interrupted, and their families, friends and communities suffering for years to come. In fact, UNICEF research has found that children in the region today face 6 times more climate-related disasters compared to their grandparents 50 years ago. The prospects for children are of multiple, overlapping and cascading climate and non-climate crises, such as conflict or socio-economic shocks.
Climate change is no longer a distant possibility, but a reality that threatens the lives, rights and well-being of every child and their family. It is causing fissures in the social and economic development trajectory of entire countries. On the situation in the East Asia and Pacific region, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for East Asia and Pacific Regional Office said:
“The inherent rights to life, survival, protection, development and free expression guaranteed to children in the Convention on the Rights of the Child are being threatened by disasters. Girls, women, people with disabilities and families living in poverty are particularly vulnerable.”
Children, who are the least responsible for this fallout, will bear the brunt of the climate disaster and its impacts. Governments have the primary responsibility to protect their people and communities, but they are finding it increasingly hard to deal with the growing frequency and magnitude of disasters, which are fast outstripping their ability to predict, prepare and respond. No one is immune from the impact of climate-related disasters and this is fast becoming an issue of survival for communities and children, but also for many businesses. Over time, the consequences of climate disasters may equal or surpass those of COVID-19 – probably the biggest disaster of our time, which showed how business activity can come to a standstill. To deal with a complex and existential challenge like climate change, it is clear that all stakeholders will need to join hands and play their part. Among other things, this means tapping into the enormous capacity business has to offer as a responsible actor in society: its voice and influence; its products and services; as well as its innovative thinking and solutions.
UNICEF is at the forefront of convening businesses and other stakeholders to protect the rights of every child and strengthen their resilience. In this context, the UNICEF Regional Offices for East Asia and Pacific and South Asia joined forces and organized the first-ever regional business consultation on resilience for children. It offered a novel and unique opportunity to share views about the growing disasters and their impact on children and future generations and the importance of investing efforts in building resilience. The event led to fruitful exchanges on ways businesses can help to make children, families and their communities feel more prepared and safer in times of disasters.
While the development and business communities may have different mandates, the climate crisis is bringing us together like never before. More and more businesses are stepping into the realm of social development as active partners who can help deal with disasters and support resilient development.
Mr. Firzan Hush Hashim, Country Director of A-PAD SL, explained the relevance of business as employers and how financial support to working families can be effective in supporting children. He also pointed out the critical need for the private and public sector to support education and climate resilience as ways to create stability and avoid economic losses.
Many understand the value and importance of including children in this process. For example, Mr. Ledua Vakaloloma, Climate Finance Officer from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) emphasized that “Building community resilience in children is very important because it helps to build their skills and also helps them to manage anxiety and feelings of certainty.” Of course, such a role will come with responsibilities and accountabilities to abide by the international human rights and humanitarian principles, norms and standards in the way business do business. Businesses will need to unlearn and undo some of their adverse policies and practices and adopt new ways of working that respect the rights of children and their families.
In this light, Ms. Suryani Sidik Motik, Deputy Chair of the Social Affairs and Disaster Management Committee of KADIN highlighted that businesses respond to humanitarian needs in natural disasters such as floods, typhoons, and volcanos, but they can, at the same time, generate different types of risks for children already dealing with the impacts of disasters. Responsible business action could include, for example, curbing the provision of products affecting children’s health, nutrition, and development.
In practice, business action could take many forms. Without a doubt, business continuity plans should be more attuned to risks present in the communities where businesses are active. This can help protect business assets and supply chains, as well as prepare local communities and working families for the next disasters. In the words of Mr. Rene Meily, President of Philippines Disaster Resilience Foundation “for businesses, unless the families are safe, it will not make any sense for them to consider their revenues, their customers and they need everyone in the society to do well in order for their businesses to do well.”
The regional consultation ended with a renewed sense of commitment and enthusiasm for further business engagement in building resilience for children and future generations. Participants from the business sector walked away with strong ambitions and hope to:
- Shape child-centred business policies, products and services that contribute to risk management;
- Utilize their voice and influence to advocate for child, family and community resilience in the context of local disaster management;
- Leverage core business expertise and assets to support humanitarian action as well as disaster and climate resilience.
Here’s to hoping more businesses will take a seat at the table.