By Sheikh Khairul Rahaman
It seems like we are in ‘Rampjaar’, the ‘disaster year’. The worst disasters are visiting our Earth. This year, the South Asia floods were the worst in a decade, killing more than 1,200 and affecting over 1.8 million children across India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Three waves of deluge affected Assam claiming over 159 lives and severe floods affected Bihar, UP, West Bengal, Gujarat, Orissa and Manipur in 2017. The Atlantic Hurricane Season of 2017 has been more intense than normal, creating the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the history of the United States. A number of countries are also ravaged by crippling droughts and disease outbreaks.
The world is shocked with growing intensity and severity of the disasters and there are questions about whether these are caused by climate change. There is, however, a lack of comprehensive alysis to conclude whether these catastrophes are created by climate change. However, there is a scientific explation on how climate change is driving these disasters, making them worse and more destructive because of warmer oceans, rising sea levels and warmer air. There are fears that catastrophes and climate change are inevitable and that such catastrophes will increase as we warm up our planet.
Consequences of climate change and disasters are affecting millions of people around the globe – and it is the most vulnerable communities and children who are the worst hit. People are displaced, their livelihoods are affected, tural resources are becoming scarce, agriculture and livestock is hit, food insecurity has been a concern. Between 2005 and 2015, disasters killed over 7,00,000 people, injured 1.4 billion people and left homeless over 23 million people (UNISDR). One in four deaths, i.e., over 12.6 million people worldwide die from diseases associated with environmental hazards and climate change, reported by WHO. Such devastation can undermine growth, destroy hard-earned development gains taking us decades back. If we let it go like this, the growth rates of regions such as Central Africa and East Asia will drop to 6% of GDP by 2050, as stated by the World Bank. Disasters cost India 10 Billion USD per year (UN GAR Report 2015).
Children are one of the most vulnerable groups and they represent around 50-60 percent of the affected population by disasters (UNICEF). Nearly every fourth child (535 million children) lives in countries affected by disaster or conflict (UNICEF, 2016). Save the Children estimates that 175 million children around the world will be affected by tural disasters per year in the next decade. Disaster disrupts life of the child in many ways. It causes death, injuries, disrupt education, cause psychological stress, depression & anxiety besides other mental and physical health hazards. It even threatens basic rights, including their survival. In 2014 alone, it forced 9 million children out of school, according to Save the Children. In the aftermath of disasters, protection remains a grave concern causing family separation, trafficking, exploitation and abuse of the children. Depleting tural resources and increasing number of people depending on those resources may spark conflicts between communities or tions, placing children at a higher risk of violence, exploitation and abuse.
We cannot prevent these extreme weather events from occurring, but can assess the risks of the ‘new normal’ and take actions at three levels – protect children and people who are already being affected, prepare people and community to absorb and adapt the new normal, mitigate risks posed by disasters and changing climate and build resilience. While doing this, the humanitarian actors need to consider the most vulnerable group of the population, the children. Hopefully, though slowly, the world is moving toward a proper child-centred response and disaster risk reduction initiatives.
The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction focused on reducing disaster risks and building resilience of people and systems with special focus on children and youth. Global Goals, 17 Sustaible Development Goals set to “end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity” by 2030. The New Urban Agenda, an extended version of SDGs, is developed to guide urbanization worldwide to make our cities inclusive, safe, resilient andsustaible for all with much mention of children. Paris Agreement on climate change is an ambitious effort to combat climate change. Implementation of these global initiatives is to be strengthened and ensured to reduce the growing risks and building resilience with child centric approaches.
Children and youth are the greatest resources of a society and investing in them could return triple benefit: healthy children and youth, skilled and healthy adults and healthy & prosperous future generation and tion. They should be our priority during both disaster and peace time – schools must be safe, zero deaths and zero day lost in school to be ensured, children to be protected from child labour and trafficking, health and food with other essential services to be provided without disruption. In the aftermath of a disaster, immediate step should be taken to reunify the separated children with their families or relative, the orphage need to be placed to the institutiol care system. Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) has not been a priority, we are still response focused. DRR and resilience building should be our focus and it should be at the heart of every development work. The ‘Act Now, Save Later’ campaign by UN bodies has rightly mentioned – every 1 dollar spent on preparedness, saves 7 dollars in response. The donors should fund more for DRR to build resilience of communities to ensure child protection, health, and education for children and support livelihood for their families.
Humanitarian response and disaster risk reduction must involve children actively. Save the Children, through Child-Centred Disaster Risk Reduction (CCDRR) approach, is working towards enhancing capacity and building resilience of the children and communities (both rural and urban) to cope with the future disaster and consequences of climate change. In this approach children play a leading role mitigate negative impact of disasters and climate change. Whereas, child-centric response listens the voices of children, prioritize and address their needs, catering to health, education, protection and other needs.
(The author works with Save the Children. The opinions expressed are his own.)