October 13 2011

NGOs urge the EU to prioritise children in disaster risk reduction

13/10/2011 - On the occasion of the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction on 13 October, SOS Children's Villages, Plan International and World Vision issued a joint press release and will hold a press conference in Brussels, urging the EU to prioritise children in their efforts on disaster risk reduction.


66 million children are affected by disaster every year. In Haiti alone, of the over 220,000 casualties in 2010, at least half of them were children. In response to the earthquake, the European Commission and EU member states committed €1.2bn to the country's long-term reconstruction and development. Yet children, by and large, are insufficiently participating in activities that could contribute to building protected and resilient communities and ensuring a future in which children are safe and can participate in the development of their country.

Photo: Sophie Preisch
A boy from Les Cayes, Haiti - Photo: Sophie Preisch
On the occasion of International Day for Disaster Reduction (DRR), and in view of the Annual Conference of the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO) on the 19 October 2011, Plan International, SOS Children's Villages and World Vision are calling on the European Union to ensure that child protection and participation is a priority before, during and after a disaster in all of the EU's humanitarian and development programmes. In a letter to Kristalina Georgieva, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response and Andris Piebalgs, EU Commissioner for Development, civil society organisations are asking to enforce the recently adopted Children's Charter for DRR and to ensure that children's self-expressed needs are taken into account, particularly in post-disaster rebuilding processes.

Children in Haiti, for example, were among the most affected by the earthquake in 2010, with around 100,000 orphaned or separated from their parents and family members, and exposed to child protection issues including trafficking, violence and abuse. Too often disaster preparedness and mitigation activities are limited to infrastructural development, building codes, and policy reform. A much overlooked but critical component of DRR is investment in community-based resilience, where children have a significant role as agents of change.

Nick Hall, DRR Advisor at Plan, states: "Our experience working with groups of children all over the world confirms that young people - provided they are aware of disasters - are inspired and inspiring champions for risk reduction at local, national and global levels."
The economic cost of reducing risk is far less than the cost of dealing with the aftermath of disasters, according to the Swiss Agency for Development: Every dollar spent on risk reduction avoids at least four dollars in non-occurring disaster losses. DRR helps reduce stress, anxiety and fear. Communities feel less vulnerable and more aware of potential hazards, threats and shocks; it encourages them to plan ahead and prepare adequately for the safety and security of their families.

Photo: Mariantonietta Peru
Girl from Marsabit, Kenya, a regiona hardly hit by drought - Photo: Mariantonietta Peru
Although some progress has been made to include children in DRR, this is only happening to a very limited extent. Lessons learnt in Haiti should be implemented into DRR and development strategies to tackle the growing climate risks. If children and young people, making up 50% of the world's population, are actively to contribute to DRR, education alone is not enough; they need encouragement and technical support. The European Union needs to step up in its efforts to mutually reinforce good governance and education in countries affected by natural hazards. In this regard, the active participation of children in preparedness programmes is not optional, it guarantees communities resilience.

A child, participating in an SOS Children's Villages programme in Port-au-Prince, says: "We have had great help and are learning in school how to protect ourselves during storms and earthquakes. I wish we could have learnt that earlier, so we would have been safer and better prepared at the time of the earthquake."

Almost two years after the disaster in Haiti, more than 500,000 people remain displaced in temporary accommodation; half of them are girls and boys under the age of 18. Sadly, the question being asked at the moment is not whether there will be a next disaster in Haiti. The question is rather when the next disaster will strike.