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Children's vulnerability to disasters

Involving children and youth as active agents of change is an integral component of Plan's disaster risk reduction efforts.
Involving children and youth as active agents of change is an integral component of Plan's disaster risk reduction efforts.

"If we do not embrace DRR [disaster risk reduction] then all our investments will only come to waste — all that we have built will be destroyed within a few minutes of a disaster."
— A municipal mayor in East Samar, Philippines

Disasters around the world disrupt the lives of millions of children, threatening their rights and their needs.

In the years to come, children's vulnerability due to disasters is expected to increase. The impact of global warming is expected to result in up to 175 million children every year being affected by disasters brought about by climate change (IFRC World Disasters Report).

Increasing children’s and families’ resilience and reducing their vulnerability to disasters are imperative to building a better world for children now and in the long-term future.

Disaster response is not new to Plan: between 2001 and 2006 we responded to 151 emergencies, with 26 ongoing programs (as of April 2006). Our resources, contacts and facilities in 49 countries form a good basis for disaster risk reduction as well as response to disasters affecting communities in and beyond established Plan program areas.

We believe building a community’s resilience to disasters is a long-term development activity. We also believe that children have much to contribute to disaster management efforts — in helping reduce risks that are a direct threat to themselves as well as the wider population, and in taking direct action that can prevent disasters.

Putting children at the center of disaster risk reduction:

Case studies:
Myanmar: Constructing disaster-resilient schools
Indonesia: Reducing disaster risk in schools
Philippines: Controlling erosion and reducing environmental degradation
Philippines: Relocating schools
El Salvador: Facilitating community and youth involvement

New disaster-resilient schools in Myanmar are being built with reinforced concrete. Photo by Plan staff. Myanmar: Constructing disaster-resilient schools
Close to 2.4 million people in Myanmar were affected when Cyclone Nargis devastated the small country in eastern Asia in May 2008: 800,000 people lost their homes, 19,359 were injured, 84,500 were killed, and 53,800 are still missing.

To date, Plan has raised $2.6 million toward disaster response for Myanmar. In addition to providing immediate relief following the cyclone, we are also supporting a three-year longer-term strategy to rebuild Myanmar’s education system, where 50-60 percent of schools were destroyed or damaged and the estimated loss related to education services amounts to US$ 1.16 billion.

A major component of our efforts to rebuild education in Myanmar is rebuilding schools. As well as supporting the construction of 20 temporary shelters and schools, we’re working with our local partners, Bridge Asia Japan and METTA Foundation, to construct and equip 10 disaster-resilient schools and 8 disaster-resilient ECCD (early childhood care and development) centers. Both the schools and the ECCD centers are being built with elevated, reinforced concrete structures and stairway-accessible flat roofs that can accommodate 300-500 people (schools) and 200–300 people (ECCD centers) in case of flooding.

Make a gift today to help children and families affected by disasters and crises.

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Children in Indonesia learning first aid as part of their school's disaster risk and recovery plan. Photo by Plan staff. Indonesia: Reducing disaster risk in schools
Indonesia is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. In the last 30 years alone, the country has reported 218 occurrences of disasters. The losses — in terms of human injuries and deaths, and environmental and economic damages — suffered from these disasters has been phenomenal. For example, the 2004 tsunami resulted in the more than 167,000 casualties and missing persons, approximately 40,000 of whom were children.

Disaster Risk Reduction comprises a broad range of interventions that target good governance, risk identification, knowledge and innovation, risk mitigation and disaster preparedness. As not one agency is capable of being involved in all aspects, these initiatives must be achieved through a collaboration of all actors, including government agencies, civil society organizations, academics, non-government organizations, media communities and community-based organizations.

Plan's School-Based Disaster Risk Reduction program, designed after torrential monsoon flooding in 2007 covered 70 percent of Jakarta, aims to increase the resilience of people, specifically children and youth, and reduce their vulnerability to disasters by increasing their knowledge, awareness and level of preparedness.

Plan worked with the children to identify disaster risks in their community surroundings. Even though the program was started as part of the flood response program, the children identified urban fires as a significant risk. Most of the schools are located in the slum areas and, according to the Jakarata Province Fire Department, an average of 880 fires occur every year.

Plan Indonesia has been actively promoting disaster risk reduction activities to more than 10,000 students in over 49 schools at high risk for fire hazards and floods. As part of the program, children are trained by Plan, local NGOs and the Indonesian Red Cross to identify risks, conduct transect walks, create risk maps and perform first aid. Students in many of the schools have also formed school preparedness teams that have created action plans and evacuation maps, and designated specific tasks to individual team members.

Donate today to help improve the recovery of children and families affected by disasters.

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Adults and children planting mangrove seedlings in order to protect their environment. Photo by Plan staff. Philippines: Controlling erosion and reducing environmental degradation
A 2004 study by the World Bank reported that the Philippines’ vulnerability to natural hazards costs the government an average of US$ 273 million annually in direct damages alone.

The damage caused by many disasters in the Philippines is aggravated by environmental degradation caused by such activities as logging, clearing, over-farming and over-fishing that have depleted and eroded the country's natural resources.

Following the 2003 landslide in Southern Leyte, after which 1,425 families had to be permanently relocated, Plan implemented a project to help stabilize the slopes by first using coco-fiber nets and rolls to help hold the soil in place and then by planting the slopes with vetiver grass to further prevent soil erosion. Unlike most grasses that form horizontal roots, vetiver grass — which is native to India — forms roots that grow almost exclusively downward (usually from 2-4 meters) that make it an excellent stabilizing hedge for stream banks, terraces and rice paddies.

In 2004, children from 10 coastal villages in the municipality of Poro organized themselves — with the assistance of Plan, ECO-Gov and the municipal government — into the "Little Fish Wardens" in order to protect the local marine life and environment. In 2007, after many of their members had grown older and left the group, the children reorganized, recruited new members, renamed themselves the "Young Environmental Guardians of Poro" (YEGOP), and revisited their mission. Today, the group's vision is to preserve the local environment and contribute to the reduction of global warming by working to protect their watershed areas and other marine sanctuaries.

One of the key roles of the group is reporting illegal marine operations in their villages. They also produce campaign materials, establish nurseries, attend orientation trainings on watershed management and assessment, attend field trips, perform coastal clean-ups, and plant mangrove seedlings in villages.

"The marine sanctuary is a treasure that must be preserved so that the next generation of children will be able to see its beauty and savor its richness," said Mary, Vice-President of YEGOP.

Your generous gift today will help build a better future for children today and tomorrow.

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Students from Santa Paz National High School attending classes at a temporary school while their new school was being constructed. Photo by Plan staff. Philippines: Relocating schools
Plan’s experience with community risk mapping and mitigation activities with youth disaster groups has shown that children and young people’s capacity to participate in disaster risk and reduction efforts is much greater than most realize and can be invaluable in effective disaster preparedness, response and mitigation.

The potential for children to initiate change within their communities is demonstrated by the school children of Santa Paz National High School in Southern Leyte, Philippines. Acting upon a risk assessment by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau that identified their school as high risk (their region was particularly prone to earthquakes and landslides), the students — with the help of Plan and key community members — went against the wishes of many of their parents and community members and won a vote to move their school to a safe location away from the landslide zone.

In addition to the children’s organizations in the school (Supreme Student Council and Student Government Organization) embarking on an education campaign about the physical processes of landslides, a large number of students also wrote to the School Division Superintendent expressing their desire to relocate. The students’ proposal won the vote 101 to 49 and the students were quickly relocated to a temporary school in a more desirable location.

The new school, which was constructed in Pasanon (a safer location) with co-financing from Plan, includes earthquake mitigation measures such as steel ties on the roof. Because schools are often used as evacuation shelters, the new school also had toilets constructed in each classroom to accommodate prolonged stays by larger numbers of people.

Donate today to help provide children and families affected by disasters with immediate relief as well as long-term assistance.

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Children from El Salvador used their knowledge and motivation to stop an activity that was contributing to erosion along their town's riverbanks. Photo by Plan staff. El Salvador: Facilitating community and youth involvement
Plan has found that children have much to contribute to disaster management efforts, in helping reduce risks that are a direct threat to themselves as well as to the wider population, and in taking direct action that can prevent disasters.

In El Salvador, Plan has been working with children’s emergency committees or brigades at the community and municipality national level since two devastating earthquakes in 2001. These committees perform key functions in risk/hazard mapping, mitigation activities and mobilization in response situations.

The River Sumpul forms the border between the community of Petapa in El Salvador and Honduras, and generates flows during the wet season powerful enough to cause significant scouring and erosion of the river bank.

The children of the Petapa Emergency Committee identified the unregulated extraction of rocks and stones from the river as a major risk leading to increased erosion and vulnerability of flooding of houses near the river.

When interviewed, the children recounted the story of the arrival of a lorry from outside the community to load stones from the river. Acting on the strength of their convictions and buoyed by their previous activities, a number of children went to the river to protest until the lorry driver agreed to leave. The children also uncovered that, although for personal use, the collection had been sanctioned by local authorities, revealing power relations central to the challenge of risk reduction. Signs prohibiting extraction for personal use have since been erected with the agreement of the local leaders.

As illustrated by the children of Petapa, providing children the opportunity to be directly involved in disaster risk reduction activities allows them to develop skills to be better prepared for potential threats, and participate in efforts to protect their safety and wellbeing.