Children and Disaster Risk Management

"We were very depressed after the tsunami. We attended trauma counselling activities at tent schools and other recreational activities sponsored by international aid agencies. With the activities, we thought that we could continue on living. We helped our parents with the daily chores so that our parents did not get stressed too long." A child in Aceh, Indonesia.

Tens of thousands of children lost their lives in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 26 December 2004. Many more children would have survived if they had had more information and skills related to disaster reduction and response. Thousands of children died in the Kashmir earthquake and countless others have died or suffered terrible trauma in many other less high profile disasters.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recognises that a child “is a subject of rights who is able to form and express opinions, to participate in decision-making processes and influence solutions, to intervene as a partner in the process of social change and in the building of democracy.” The case is now strongly made that initiatives that involve children benefit children and also benefit the family and wider community.

As the interpretation of the CRC develops, Plan is one of many child-rights-based organisations that have begun to highlight the need to extend this participatory principle to all aspects of disaster management. If we believe in the ability of those involved – be they adults or children – to articulate their needs, express their views, establish relationships with those who are there to assist them and take actions to improve their circumstances as essential to development, it must be even more critical in the humanitarian context. As children often constitute such a significant proportion of the affected population in disasters, ignoring their capacity means undermining the capacity of whole communities to cope with the situation. 

Plan recognises that disaster management is a development issue. Fundamentally, development is about politics. That means encouraging all facets of society to work together to reduce the vulnerability of children and young people. Plan also recognises that disaster management is about children’s rights. As Amartya Sen’s work has confirmed, birth endows those rights, and living should entitle everyone to progressively realise those rights. 

Plan’s recent experience in Asia has shown that children often form more than one third of the death toll in disasters. The lives of a similar percentage are severely disrupted through separation or loss of family members, through disruption to education and through the breakdown of communities. Elsewhere Plan has documented countless examples of how natural hazards have been exacerbated by poor governance, corruption and conflict. Almost everywhere, children’s specific needs are usually overlooked because they are ignored during planning processes. After Hurricane Mitch, it was consultation with children in El Salvador that highlighted the fact that emergency shelters did not allow for division of space between girls and boys and this created serious risks for girls. Plan’s experiences with community risk mapping and mitigation activities with youth disaster volunteer teams in the Philippines, Haiti and El Salvador have shown that children and young people’s capacity to participate in risk reduction is much greater than most realise, and can be invaluable in effective disaster preparedness and response.

There are big gaps in international policy, practice and knowledge about how best to articulate and recognise the roles, capacities and rights of children in disaster risk reduction (DRR). Plan is making a significant effort to fill these gaps. Plan is currently engaged on an extensive programme of action research, developing new approaches to child-centred risk reduction. Plan will be paying particular attention to the different impacts and roles of every segment of the young population; children are not all the same. Sensitivity to gender, age, ability and disability is essential. Through this work, Plan aims to reduce the impacts of ‘natural’ and ‘human-made’ disasters whilst reinforcing the rights of children.

For more information, contact:
Dr. Nick Hall
Disaster Risk Reduction Manager
Plan International UK
5-6 Underhill Street, London NW1 7HS, United Kingdom
Tel: +44(0)207 482 9774; Fax: +44(0)207 9778

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