Over 100 million children and young people are affected by disasters every year, according to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
Children are also often most vulnerable to disasters finding it harder to cope with the unexpected interruptions to their lives.
But, children and young people can make a significant contribution to disaster reduction as well, creating a positive change for the future.
A report ‘Enabling Child Centred Agency in Disaster Risk Reduction’ (DDR) produced by Children in a Changing Climate said: “When children learn and practice DDR from a young age, behaviour change becomes embedded in their lives at such an early stage that it will be passed on to subsequent generations when they become adults.”
The group – a joint initiative by UNICEF, Plan International, World Vision and Save the Children – also produced the Children’s Charter, aimed at raising awareness of the both protect and engage children in DRR.
The charter aims to be “for children by children” and involved consultation with 600 children in 21 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America
Disaster Reduction through schools
ActionAid also believes that by working with children in schools, DRR reaches the hub of the community. Nearly every town or village has a school, so provides an opportunity to reach not only to children but parents, teachers, community elders and local and national authorities.
Their five year ‘Disaster Risk Reduction through schools’ project saw DDR embedded into the national curriculum in Nepal, while in other countries the lessons the children learnt made them agents of change.
John Abuya, from ActionAid said: “Children act as excellent messengers of a culture of prevention – spreading the word amongst parents and the wider community about the need to prepare for disasters.
“They need to understand why disasters happen, when they will happen and what they can do when it happens, and how to live in a way that makes disasters less likely to happen.”
For example when in November 2007, Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh; ten-year-old Lamia Akter was able to get her family to safety. She said: “When Sidr came we went to many houses. When I first told my parents they did not want to come. I was crying and very afraid. I said to mum and dad, if you don’t come then let me go. Then my parent said okay let’s go.”
The programme also works to secure schools and local buildings, creating shelters for the community and ensuring education is not disrupted by disasters.
A five-year project, funded by the Department for International Development in the UK and the Greek government, it worked with communities across nine countries – including India, Haiti, Kenya and Ghana.
ActionAid is currently working to give climate change adaptation a central role in DRR.
Opportunities in Adaptation
Climate change adaptation is not only about disasters though, and a new project from the UN aims to open up new opportunities, teach new skills and supply a regular income to the young unemployed.
Under the Climate Change Adaptation and Development Initiative (CC DARE) – a joint project by the UN Environment Programme and the UN development Programme – adaptation is combined with creating opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa and Small Island Developing States.
For 25-year-old Haleka Shisay, from the Tigray region of Ethiopia this opportunity came in the shape of beehives. The CC DARE programme aimed to not only give opportunities to the young and help tackle climate change but also address the food crisis in Ethiopia.
The drought which hit the Horn of Africa hit Ethiopia – where 85 per cent of people depend on agriculture.
Beekeeping has historically been an important income generating activity in the region, and the new project aims to teach young people about keeping bees.
The project has also seen over 1,000 trees and shrubs critical to bees planted, which will help to reduce climate risks associated with loss of water resources.