Geneva, 12 October
- “Build bridges because every year children miss school in the rainy season when they have to cross gullies, rivers and water channels huge enough to drown them,” a child from Lesotho told the recently launched Children’s Charter on Disaster Risk Reduction.
Natural hazards are increasing and while more and more people suffer from the related catastrophes, children are among the most traumatized as their ability to cope with unexpected and painful interruptions to their regular schedules is still not fully developed. Around 100 million children are affected by disasters every year.
“I felt unhappy when I saw the school destroyed by the storm. I did not go to school because the school was destroyed. It happened at night and in the morning my friend and I went to school and found it had been destroyed,” laments a child from the Lao People’s Democratic Republic who was also interviewed for the Charter.
Since 1989, 63,667 schools have been damaged or destroyed in just 19 countries with 46 percent due to frequently occurring, low-severity extensive disasters.
UNISDR believes that schools, designated by UNICEF as zones of peace during conflicts, must also become zones of safety and resilience when confronted with natural hazards, with fool proof evacuation strategies for the worst case disaster scenario.
In 2009, UNISDR launched the One Million Safe Schools and Hospitals Campaign, a global advocacy initiative to make schools and hospitals safer from disasters. This is part of the 2010-2011 World Disaster Risk Reduction Campaign on "Building Resilient Cities - My city is getting ready!"
Underpinning UNISDR’s schools campaign is the realization that people in unsafe schools, hospitals and health facilities are at the greatest risk of losing their lives when a disaster strikes. “We can improve the safety of schools, hospitals and health facilities to address the increasing risk due to climate change and other disasters - natural and man-made”, states Helena Molin Valdes, Deputy Director UNISDR.
“The most vulnerable of the vulnerable are children,” states Molin Valdes. “They must be protected before disasters strike, during disasters and after. And the only way we as adults will be able to respond adequately to their needs is to include them in the policy and programming stages and respond to the specific needs they articulate”.
The majority of children surveyed in 21 of the world’s most disaster-prone countries feel completely cut off from any information regarding disasters.
Plan International States in its Children and Tsunami Report, “As children often constitute such a significant proportion of the affected population in disasters, ignoring their capacity means undermining capacity of the community as a whole to cope with the situation.”
The Children’s Charter asks for child protection to be a priority before, during and after a disaster. Such protection must ensure safe schools and uninterrupted education.