FEATURE: Assessing the impacts of disasters on children
On the International Day for Disaster Reduction – Mudasser Siddiqui, South Asia DRM Specialist from Plan International explains the unique vulnerabilities of young people when impacted by climate-related disasters.
As a new father living in South Asia I now see the implications of climate risks on the wellbeing of children through different eyes. Having worked on disaster risk management and climate change adaptation for seven years – the past one and half years with Plan International – addressing children and youth’s capacity to better tackle disaster risk was always a priority in my work. But the little headway being made to really put these jargon words into practice have remained a constant challenge.
Progress is, however, being made. Most welcoming is UNISDR’s Step Up campaign which has placed children and young people as the global priority (and theme of the international day for disaster reduction in 2011), and Women and Girls – the [in]Visible Force of Resilience (as the theme for 2012), in recognition of their disproportionate vulnerability to disaster risks. Closer to home, SAARC’s ‘Framework for Care, Protection and Participation of Children in Disasters’ is without doubt a positive step in ensuring the explicit recognition of the differentiated needs of girls and boys of different age groups during emergencies. Its ten priorities for action to safeguard the rights of children from disaster risks include guidelines on: assessing the vulnerabilities of children to disasters; evacuation, search and rescue of children in disasters; food security and nutrition for children; water, sanitation and hygiene facilities for children; emergency medical care and health services for children; mental health services and psycho-social support for children; reconstructing built environment (RBE) for children; child protection in disasters; education in emergencies and school safety for children and participation of children in disaster management.
Earlier this year Plan International undertook a large scale research study across five South Asian countries (Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) which aimed to inform our programme strategy on climate change adaptation. The study aimed to really unpack what is happening on the ground and truly push us to better understand and address the nuances between the disaster experiences of 16 year-old girls living in South Asia’s rural mountainous communities, compared to two year-old boys living in the region’s urban slums.
The research, which considered the views of 3,421 children (1,722 girls and 1,699 boys), and 1,184 adults, has granted South Asians on the frontline of climate-related risks the opportunity to share their story of the realities of climate risk at the household level. Children told us of their experiences of post-disaster gender-based violence, family break-ups, exacerbated poverty, child labour and barriers to their development and learning. Their accounts of their coping strategies that were being used, or better said ‘maladaptation choices’, and the implication of these on the lives of girls and boys and their future is an urgent wake-up call. The research findings revealed how children’s rights are becoming neglected priorities due to extreme household coping strategies resulting in more children experiencing school drop-outs, child labour , child trafficking, early marriage, and even prostitution. And as a South Asian, a humanitarian, and a new parent, I am more than aware that child protection and development risks have long lasting implications on the lives of children and on inter-generational poverty in South Asia.
Both girls and boys in the study perceived their role in their families to be changing due to a growing number of inter-related risks putting unprecedented pressure on households. Many of the pressures identified are associated with shocks and stresses resulting from climate extremes. Given the IPCC projections for South Asia – including increased extreme climate and weather events in the coming decades – we can also expect that more of our region’s 614 million girls and boys under 18 years will be facing the brunt of climate risks. The report, Climate Extremes and Child Rights in South Asia: a Neglected Priority was written by Katie Harris, Research Officer in the climate change team, ODI and Kelly Hawrylyshyn, Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience Advisor, Plan UK.
The call for action today, to Step Up to makewomen and girls a more visible force for resilience, must also ensure disaster risk management and climate change adaptation policies and financial resources address critical aspects of child rights, particularly child protection and education – to ensure girls and boys in South Asia and across the world can benefit from their rights to be children in a changing climate.