Invest more in education about natural disasters in the world's schools

Children must be involved in the work of building communities that can stand up to natural disasters. The countries of the world agreed on this in Sendai in 2015. If we want this to become a reality, we must increase aid to civil society and work with disaster risk reduction in the world's schools, writes Plan International Sweden.

This week, the states of the world meet in Cancún, Mexico, to report on how they are implementing the global framework for disaster risk reduction, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. Sweden participates as one of the states that has invested the most in disaster risk reduction and civil protection.

In the new policy framework for Swedish development cooperation and humanitarian aid, the government has clearly emphasized the importance of working with disaster risk reduction. This is good, but now clarity is needed in strategies for actors to be able to go from words to action. In Latin America and Asia, several governments have committed to incorporating disaster risk reduction into their school curricula. Now it needs to happen in more countries.

Works to create safe schools

Over the past decade, Plan International has conducted a global advocacy effort to increase states' commitments to create safe schools in areas at high risk of disaster. We have made extensive efforts to support and protect hundreds of thousands of children and their families affected by natural disasters in the Philippines, Haiti, Pakistan, East Africa and Nepal, among others. The purpose of our humanitarian efforts is to secure the children's right to protection, education and return to a secure existence.

Children's participation is at the center and therefore a large part of our disaster risk reduction work takes place in schools where we have reached over one million children in 4000 schools worldwide. The work includes securing school buildings, children learning about risks and how to reduce them and how to act when a disaster occurs.

Recurring disasters erode people's ability to recover. Therefore, investments in disaster risk reduction, especially in schools, are vital to saving lives and resources. Research from the recent typhoon disasters in the Philippines shows that in areas where children had been trained in disaster risk reduction, fewer people died. The children were not only prepared for how to act but also passed on the knowledge to their families.

Preventive work is crucial, but it is often forgotten. More than 100 million people, half of whom are children, are affected by various types of natural disasters each year. People who are already living on the margins are hardest hit and many families' finances are destroyed when the disaster strikes. The children thus often lose their opportunity for schooling, medical care and a safe home environment.

There will be more large-scale natural disasters

According to NASA, large-scale natural disasters will increase in both number and strength in step with the escalating climate change and in 2016 broke all heat records. East Africa has been hit by the worst drought in 70 years.

With more serious armed conflicts and unrest in the world, countries' investment in disaster risk management has declined. This is despite the fact that we know that the root of many conflicts and the increased influx of refugees have been caused by recurring natural disasters and a reduced access to natural resources due to climate change.

We know that long-term efforts pay off and therefore call on the Swedish government to:

Invest in disaster risk reduction in schools. The school has a central role in spreading knowledge about climate change and natural disasters, not only to children but entire communities. Sida should therefore develop clear guidelines for how disaster risk reduction efforts and resilience are to be financed through the education systems.

2. Work with civil society as a partner to a greater extent. Despite Sweden's positive attitude towards disaster risk reduction and large financial contributions to the UN Agency for Risk Reduction and Disaster Preparedness (UNISDR), we notice that civil society as a partner in the work is under-prioritized. It is not enough to stop at policies and to finance UN bodies that work with normative change, concrete change is needed on the ground. We call on the government to prioritize the field work that civil society organizations do to reduce risks and build resilient societies.

Advocate for children's right to participation. Sweden should promote the right of children to participate in the implementation and follow-up of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 and the global goals in Agenda 2030.

Mariann Eriksson
Agnes Björn

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