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Children Take Disaster Risk Reduction Into Their Own Hands

Child activists attending a Conference on Global Disaster Risk Reduction are urging governments to endorse an action plan to minimize the impacts of natural disasters on their lives. More than 600 children in 21 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America were consulted by child advocacy organizations in the development of the so-called Children’s Charter for Disaster Risk Reduction, which will be presented to those taking part in the conference.

The aim of the charter is to raise awareness about the need to put children at the heart of disaster risk reduction as they are among those who suffer most from catastrophic events.

The statistics are grim. The United Nations reports about half of all people affected or killed by disasters are children. It estimates 175 million children are likely to be affected by climate-related disasters each year. And this number probably will rise as the frequency and intensity of natural disasters increases.

Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. Children’s Fund Agnes Chang was in Tokyo when the earthquake and tsunami struck the northeastern coast of Japan on March 11.

She says in the three worst affected prefectures - Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate - 378 children died, and 191 went missing. She says most children survived because the tsunami struck when they were at school.

“But how come these children are saved. How did they survive? I think there are two reasons," Chang said. "One is because of the safe school structure. And the second reason is because of the preparedness of the school. The schools are well-prepared. Manuals are provided to educators on the basis of preparedness, and regular drills are compulsory. Disaster-appropriate drills are done regularly at school, at all schools, all over Japan.”

Relatively few children died in Japan because of preparedness. Compare this with the 2008 Szechuan earthquake, which killed more than 9,000 children. These deaths are blamed on the shoddy construction of the schools in the region.

Tricia, a young activist, comes from a disaster-prone country. The Philippines is subject to typhoons, earthquakes, storm surges, landslides, flash floods and other disasters. She has seen the destruction and suffering resulting from such catastrophic events.

She tells representatives attending a special roundtable on Children for Resilience that children can do a great deal to reduce risks and save lives.

“Disaster reduction education is important since it raises the awareness to children and children could play a very big role in disaster risk reduction…The children must have the knowledge on what to do and how to respond to these disasters," Tricia said. "We play a very big role for the future and we have opinions that we feel should be heard. I believe, too, that we can do so much more than the adults can. So I hope all the people here today will prioritize and help the children and sign the Children’s Charter pledge for the children.”

The main points of the Charter include the need to make schools safe; to protect children before, during and after a disaster; to give children the information they need; to build safe infrastructure; and to make sure disaster risk reduction reaches the most vulnerable people.