Margareta Wahlström (right) meets with children from Ishinomaki City, Rikuzentakata City, and Yamada town in the Tohoku region of Japan.
By Yuki Matsuoka
KOBE, 30 July 2012 - Japanese school children have asked the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, to make sure that children's views are taken into account in the consultations on a new framework agreement on disaster risk reduction to succeed the Hyogo Framework for Action.
Ms. Wahlström took time out to meet the children while she was attending the World Ministerial Conference on Disaster Reduction hosted by the Government of Japan.
At a dialogue event organized by the Save the Children, Ms. Wahlström met with children from "Children's Community Building Clubs" in the Tohoku region. They meet once a week in Ishinomaki City, Rikuzentakata City, and Yamada town to discuss how they can contribute and make their communities better through the reconstruction efforts in their communities.
The children have come up with several concrete proposals to make children's voices heard in the reconstruction and disaster risk reduction discussions. They asked Ms. Wahlström to listen to, and reflect, the voices of the children, in particular those who experienced disasters, in the discussions on a new international agreement on disaster risk reduction.
In the words of 15 year-old Eri Takashima, a first grade female high school student, in Ishinomaki City, "please listen to our opinions, hear our voices. Please do not decide by simply listening to adults - we are not asking you to simply listen to us. We would like our ideas and opinions to be treated equally just like those of adults. We have reasons why we want our voices to be heard --and one of them is the experience we had during and after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami last year [March]".
Another 15 year old High School student, Asuka Chiba from Rikuzentakata City, said: "We believe that our ideas in this proposal, coming from the children of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima who experienced the disaster, will be very useful in disaster risk reduction and in recovery and reconstruction after disasters in the world, especially for other children".
There are currently 133 countries reporting on their implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters which was agreed in Kobe seven years ago and is scheduled to be succeeded by a new agreement at the next World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction which will be hosted by Japan in 2015. One of the Framework's priorities is to use education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels.
Ms. Wahlström responded to the children by saying "Children are not just a vulnerable group, but can play vital roles in their communities to prepare for future disasters. I would like to make sure that your proposals are shared and heard at the international level, and would welcome your further participation in the global discussions on disaster risk reduction".
The Children's Charter for Disaster Risk Reduction was formally launched by children at last year's Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction and was developed by UNICEF, Save the Children, Plan International and World Vision through consultations with more than 600 children in 21 countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
Ms. Wahlström also paid a visit to the Arahama Elementary School in Sendai City which played an important role in demonstrating the importance of social cohesion and solidarity in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami providing shelter to many.
She said: "We also visited Arahama Elementary School in Sendai City. The school was located close to the coastal area and damaged heavily by tsunami waves on 11 March last year. Due to the evacuation plan and regular drills, however, no school children died in the school on that day. A couple of years ago, they moved emergency goods from the 1st floor of the school gymnasium to the 4th floor of the school building. The school also allowed a number of people to use the school as a living area once it was registered as an evacuation centre".