Disaster risk reduction

UNICEF supports child-centred disaster risk reduction (DRR) in 10 countries across Europe and Central Asia to prevent or mitigate humanitarian emergencies by reducing the impact of natural hazards.

Several young children huddle under a desk looking toward the camera as part of a disaster risk reduction drill.

The challenge

Europe and Central Asia has a history of natural hazards – including flooding, earthquakes and landslides – that have often escalated into humanitarian and economic disasters, with the loss of lives, homes, schools and other essential services, as well as livelihoods.   

A community’s ability to prepare for and cope with natural hazards can prevent disasters and save lives. But when a community is unprepared, and unable to cope, the result can be massive loss of life and the undermining of decades of social and economic progress, especially for children.  

A lack of child-sensitive disaster risk reduction (DRR) plans leaves children vulnerable to hazards.

Monitoring, forecasting and early warning of natural hazards are all gaining ground in the region, but have not been matched sufficiently by disaster risk reduction (DRR) measures to equip communities with the knowledge and skills they need to protect themselves. Few countries in the region have comprehensive and child-sensitive DRR plans in place, and too few communities know exactly what to do when a natural hazard strikes.  

While it is encouraging that more governments are investing in measures to meet the needs of people at risk of emergencies, they are not yet addressing the specific vulnerabilities of children and women, including those with disabilities and special needs. Families may not know where to turn for guidance, and it is crucial to strengthen information and awareness, as well as technical skills.

Looking ahead: natural hazards are likely to increase.

Natural hazards in the region are likely to increase as a result of climate change and environmental degradation. More extreme weather events, coupled with poor preparedness in communities, can only increase the risks of humanitarian disasters.

As always, children – who often account for more than half of all disaster victims – will be affected disproportionately.

The solution

UNICEF upholds a child’s right to protection from the risks of disasters, empowering communities that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of flooding, earthquakes and landslides. Our work on disaster risk reduction (DRR) equips communities, including their children, with the knowledge they need to stop a natural hazard escalating into an emergency.  

We also help countries to identify potential disaster risks and channel help towards the most vulnerable people, especially children, before a disaster strikes.   

Disaster risk reduction is a proactive approach.

DRR represents a major shift from a reactive to a proactive approach, with disaster risks identified, assessed and addressed as part of long-term development.  

Our work promotes DRR at policy levels through child-centred standards for schools, municipal services and risk-informed development planning. It entails teacher training and curriculum revision to advance awareness, knowledge and practical capacities at the local level to protect communities. Such practical measures also provide vital information for policy-makers on what actually works. 

The number of countries adopting DRR approaches has expanded.

With our support, the number of countries with DRR approaches has expanded from one country in the region (Uzbekistan) in 2007 to more than 10 countries today.   

In Kyrgyzstan, for example, UNICEF has supported a Government assessment of every school in the country to see which ones should be refurbished, or even relocated, to protect children from earthquakes and landslides – a first for the region. The study found that 85 per cent of education facilities have low levels of structural safety and that preparedness is vital to keep children safe.  

This assessment has been part of UNICEF’s partnership with a range of ministries and geological experts that look beyond the physical safety of school buildings to include new thinking and capacity-building on this issue, and the inclusion of DRR in the school curriculum.

Response committees are being set up in schools to set out exactly who does what in an emergency; who raises the alarm signal, who coordinates the evacuation, and so on. Importantly, the committees include students, as well as teachers and other staff.