The safety and protection of school children must come first as thousands of world leaders, government officials and NGOs gather in Japan for the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, says child rights organisation Plan International Australia.
The main item on the Conference agenda is a successor to the current blueprint for global disaster risk reduction, which expires this year. Over 8,000 people are expected to attend the 2015 event, including heads of state, government ministers, parliamentarians, academics, NGO and other civil society representatives.
“Millions of children are affected by disasters every year, the frequency and ferocity of which is increasing – and when a disaster strikes, children and young people suffer disproportionately,” says Rohan Kent, Disaster Manager for Plan International Australia.
Kent notes that 1.2 billion students are enrolled in primary and secondary schools worldwide, of which three out of four live in areas of high seismic activity. Hundreds of millions more face regular floods, landslides, extreme winds and fire hazards.
“Children spend half their waking lives at school, yet all too often schools are not built to withstand a natural disaster,” he says.
Plan will be presenting its Safe Schools Global Programme to press the case for school children to be at the forefront of the new blueprint for global disaster risk reduction. The programme works in 31 disaster-prone countries across the world, engaging partners in the education sector to promote schools as a place for children to grow up safely.
Plan is also working in partnership with the Australia government – through the Humanitarian Partnership Agreement - and ASEAN to improve resilience of schools in South East Asia to natural disasters.
“One way to prepare communities for disaster is through young people. It is imperative that children are prepared to know what to do in the face of disaster, since they can pass on the message to their community,” Kent says.
“Children are among the most vulnerable in a disaster – typically representing 50-60 per cent of those affected – yet they are often viewed as powerless victims and excluded from prevention, planning and recovery. Plan’s work shows that children’s involvement gives them a sense of control over situations in which they might otherwise feel powerless,” he says.
“So that’s why we are calling for the protection of school children to be prioritised as the new post-2015 blueprint is discussed at the conference in Sendai. Investing in disaster preparedness can and will save many lives – and this starts from a young age,” Kent says.
To download photos, videos and Plan’s Safe Schools Global Programme, visit: bit.ly/safeschoolsplan
Plan is one of the oldest and largest children's development organisations in the world, founded 75 years ago, working in 51 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas and supported by 21 donor countries. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations.
Media contact: Adam Cathro, Plan International Australia, Media Relations Manager, 0488 202 945