Saturday, June 20, 2009

Children and Natural Disasters...

Natural disasters have globally increased four times, growing from fewer than 100 in 1975 to more than 400 in 2005.[1] The geographical location of Pakistan has made the whole country, especially the northern parts of North West Frontier Province (NWFP), more vulnerable to disaster. According to the recent studies conducted by the scientists of Quad-e-Azam University, Islamabad and NESPAK, the whole NWFP province, including the district Mansehra is vulnerable to earthquakes due to the existence of a number of fault lines. Similarly, events such as landslides and flash floods have been identified as most occurring natural disasters in District Mansehra. This is further exacerbated by the increasing population and soil erosion due to the continuous deforestation in the areas.

Children are among the most vulnerable victims of these natural disasters due to age, dependency on adults and lack of awareness and knowledge about disasters. This was manifested during the massive earthquake of 2005 in Pakistan where a lot of children were affected. More then 73,000 people died during the earthquake, destroying 146,142 houses and 345 schools[2], and 50% of the victims were children. Although, there is very little research conducted on children and disasters in the country, the incidents of disasters, especially the earthquake of 2005 in Pakistan, showed that children are affected most psychologically and physically. Children education is also affected as they were not able to go to schools due to destruction to schools’ buildings. However, children can contribute to reduce those vulnerabilities through access to information, learning new skills through games, risks assessments, participating in planning and sharing information.

Immediately after the earthquake, World Vision Pakistan responded to the earthquake affectees, especially for the protection of children through initiatives like child friendly spaces, psycho-social care, emergency education, monitoring and advocating for the protection of child rights through coordinated efforts with other INGOs. Since March 2007, WV started its Area Integrated Programme in Siran valley to reach the vulnerable communities and children and work more closely through formation of village organizations, child brigades, and disaster management committees to respond to rehabilitation of livelihoods as well as capacity building of children in emergency response and disaster mitigation.

The recent evaluation conducted in World Vision Area Integrated Programme presents very encouraging results of the past projects implemented in ERDM. According to the findings of evaluation, there have been increases in awareness levels by 4%, early warning systems by 2% and awareness about disaster prone areas by 22% since the baseline conducted in March 2007[3]. The work of WV with the child brigades have revealed that children should not be considered as passive victims of disasters. Children can actively perform their roles in disaster preparedness/mitigation if favorable environment is created and communities are mobilized to encourage children, particularly girls to participate in such activities. In general, WV has thoroughly reviewed its two years response programme in Siran valley and is embarking on a community based approach to poverty reduction, through the Community Driven Initiatives (CDIs)[4]with the goal of “Empowering Communities, especially Women and Children, for Sustainable Development”.

Asif Iqbal
Programme Officer
World Vision Pakistan

[1] UN-HABITAT 2007
[2] Monitoring and Evaluation Wing, PERRA, Government of NWFP, Pakistan
[3] AIP Siran Evaluation Report, April-May 2008
[4] Community Driven Initiatives (CDIs) approach is WV Pakistan approach to poverty reduction in which local organization are empowered through transfer of skills and responsibilities for community driven projects management

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