PAKISTAN: Children can play an important role in disaster preparedness
In the last ten years, the country has experienced multiple disasters of gigantic proportions – both natural and man-made. While the loss of life and property is insurmountable, it is equally disturbing to see such a high number of children being adversely affected. Be it the large number of lives lost when schools collapsed during the 2005 earthquake or the recurrent cases of drowning and electrocution we see each year during the monsoon season, where a great number of children die or suffer life-long disabilities.
This year, excessive rainfall has also created a disaster-like situation in many parts of Pakistan. Heavy monsoon downpours have caused the deaths of hundreds of people, including children.
Over time, the country has developed mechanisms, at governmental and non-governmental levels, to manage and mitigate the disastrous effects. However, there is still a need to improve the system. Two important steps that should be taken as priorities are: construction of safe schools to protect children in the case of emergencies like fire or earthquake and reduction of the risks of accidents caused by open sewers and live wires during the rainy season. With a little effort, such death traps that cause unnecessary losses can be eliminated.
After the heavy rains in 2011 and during the rehabilitation work in the rural areas of Sindh province, I observed a very interesting phenomenon. Many children took a great interest in the development work and even proposed new plans for their schools, playgrounds, and streets.
Children should have a right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Therefore, their concerns should be addressed, most especially in disaster prevention and rebuilding processes.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with a group of children and share some ideas about their participation in important issues. The small group discussion was organized by the Karachi-based Social Research and Development Organization (SRDO).
The children were highly passionate during the discussion and they maintained that they can be more helpful than the adults, in planning and implementation processes. They were saying, "Listen to our ideas and thoughts!"
Some children even maintained that they would volunteer their services for any disaster prevention programs, should any government department or NGO invite them.
In the recent heavy rains, the deaths of some children, especially due to drowning and electrocution, could have easily been prevented if they were properly aware of basic, disaster- risk information.
In recent catastrophes, government departments, NGOs and international organizations have jointly provided commendable supportive services to the affected population. However, for the future, we have to plan and implement a solid Preparedness Mechanism to avoid such human miseries that have occurred in our country of late.
Children, whether living in rural or urban areas, should have specific knowledge about how to respond during and after a disaster. Moreover, involving children can produce good results. By participating in alleviating natural and man-made disasters that impact their daily lives, there will develop, among their peers, a wider awareness of how pro-active prevention can in the future help toward saving many precious lives.
About the Author: Amir Murtaza is a senior researcher, analyst and writer on social development issues, especially pertaining to women, youth and children. He can be approached firstname.lastname@example.org