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MIL OSI – Recognising risks to better protect children in disaster-prone countries

 March 15, 2015

Providing a safe environment for children in disaster-prone countries is as much about understanding the risks associated with a disaster as it is about understanding the disaster itself,

University of Canterbury’s National Centre for Research on Europe academic Dr Genevieve Taylor says.

She has evaluated disaster risk reduction activities in the Asia Pacific, to see if European countries uphold their obligations to protect children surrounding a natural disaster.

Her research measured how countries uphold a child’s right to protection. This is equally relevant for disaster management plans of both developing and developed countries prone to disasters, like New Zealand, where children are at risk to a number of natural hazards.

“Children across the world can be at risk at various stages of a disaster. Following a disaster they may be separated from their families, physically injured, or there may be slow onset impacts such as physical or mental health concerns, reduced education, worsened living conditions, or subjected to violence,” Dr Taylor says.

“Disaster risk reduction works across the disaster cycle, prior to an event, as well as following an event. This requires looking at the short and long-term risks, but this is no easy feat as it requires continuous self-reflection from policy-makers, to communities, to families to assess all kinds of risks and review what is place towards them.

“We’re not talking only about the first steps following a disaster, but what happens after that. What do we do in the first few days, few months, or few years? There is often a focus on protection against the immediate impacts of a disaster but protection extends to social, cultural, economic, and psychological vulnerabilities which are often difficult to see, and may not present themselves straight away.

“My research, supervised by Dr Katharine Vadura, has shown that internationally there are measures in place to protect children but to varying degrees. There are differences of what represents ‘child protection,’ who is responsible, and at what point, which can all impact on how we respond to the rights of children surrounding a disaster.

“There is a need to broaden the view of child protection beyond seeing children as dependent or inherently vulnerable, to recognise their capabilities to act, and to make decisions to improve their own wellbeing.”

The United Nations world conference on disaster risk reduction in Sendai, Japan, will be held next week, with the University of Canterbury’s Professor Tim Davies one of the speakers. Dr Taylor says it will be interesting to see if there are positive shifts in the responsibilities and accountability of those engaged in disaster risk reduction partnerships to recognise child rights. She is planning to publish her thesis as a book later this year.

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