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Investing in children to prepare for disasters

  • Published at 07:25 pm March 27th, 2015
Investing in children to prepare for disasters

When a disaster happens, children are at high risk to health, malnutrition, and exploitation due to hazardous and unstable conditions. According to UNICEF, there are two critical issues for the future of climate change impacts on children -- health and economy.  Unsanitary conditions, loss of homes, and increased waterborne diseases are health risks children are exposed to. On the other hand, loss of livelihoods and assets to a child’s family makes them susceptible to child labour as the family tries to cope with reduced income. These issues are central to research, because they affect children’s well-being as well as climate change policy and development practices.

Investment in children ensures long-term rewards for children, their families, and their communities, in spite of children’s vulnerability to the risks of climate change. For example, child-centred Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) programs in the northern districts of Bangladesh have enabled children and community members to mitigate the risks of climate-induced disasters.

 While visiting Bagerhaat and Gopalganj districts with a group of visiting researchers from ICCCAD, I got to hear the experiences and survival stories from women and children during climate-induced hazards. Women and children suffer from various health and economic problems as a result of climate-related hazards.  Diarrhoea, pneumonia, amasha (severe upset stomach), and high fever are very common among children. Additionally, during flood season, schools are often inundated, disrupting children’s education. 

Adaptive capacity or a child’s ability to cope with a disaster alone is not enough to protect them against climate-related hazards. Children’s participation in decision-making processes is a key issue in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).  Research shows that it is essential for children to participate and “take control” of their “views” through their “own agency.” In other words, children must be able to reflect upon and make decisions about their own well-being and to understand the consequences of their actions.

Giving children participatory rights also requires an understanding of various theoretical and contextual concepts such as poverty, climate change adaptation, and resilience. These concepts are essential to addressing issues and debates that are essential to understanding children’s capacity to reduce climate-induced hazards.  Child-centred approaches not only enable children to cope with climate-induced disasters, they also directly place children at the heart of their communities -- vulnerable to cyclone, flood, and other calamities -- as sources of knowledge and action to mitigate climate change issues. 

Bangladesh is making strides to reduce children’s vulnerabilities during climate hazards.  For example, in 2010 Bangladesh’s Ministry of Education incorporated disaster preparedness into the curriculum of primary and secondary education. International non-governmental organisations are also actively working on this issue.  PLAN International implemented a student-led DRR program in a northern district in Bangladesh to reduce the effect of the climate disasters during the monsoon season when the country encounters 80% of its total annual rainfall and frequent flooding. 

Yet we need to do more. We must ensure that research institutes and non-governmental organisations like PLAN, ICCCAD, and Association for Development Activity of Mainfold Social Work (ADAMS) do not end up working alone.  The investments in children’s knowledge and ability to deal with disasters will remain with them throughout their lives and enhance a nation’s capacity to respond to disasters and deal with its after effects. The government must step in to create a platform for effective collaboration between NGOs, private and public sector entities, and community members to reduce vulnerabilities of children and their communities to climate-induced shocks and stresses. 

 

Iqbal Ahmed is a PhD candidate at the University of Leeds in UK and a Visiting Researcher at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD).