How Unicef is preparing children for future disasters in the Philippines

Flood survivor Philip, 15 and youth facilitator Habib, 24, from Kids for Peace, which offered children psychosocial support following Tropical Storm Washi and helped families to prepare for future disasters.Flood survivor Philip, 15 and youth facilitator Habib, 24, from Kids for Peace, which offered children psychosocial support following Tropical Storm Washi and helped families to prepare for future disasters. ©Unicef UK/Philippines/2012/Jeoffrey Maitem

In April I visited the Philippines to see how Unicef is helping children recover from disasters and prepare for future ones. We visited Cagayan de Oro, which was badly hit by Tropical Storm Washi nearly a year ago on 16 December 2011. The area had not experienced such a devastating tropical stGetting children involved in orm before, which meant that people, especially poorer families, were unprepared.

Yesterday, I heard that Typhoon Bopha was approaching the same area of the Philippines. I was obviously concerned to hear that families there, including those I met, would be facing a typhoon, after the traumatic events of last December.

The severe weather in the Philippines is a reminder as to why the discussions currently being held in Doha are so important. World governments are discussing how to tackle climate change, which is already hitting children first and worst.

As part of our Speak Up for Children campaign, we have been calling for progress on the Green Climate Fund. The Green Climate Fund could ensure millions of children have enough food and clean water and are protected from disasters, but only if it gets the funding it desperately needs. For example it could provide early warning systems and cyclone-proof schools.

The importance of Unicef’s work in preparing children for future disasters was brought home to me when I met Philip, 15, from Cagayan de Oro. He attended psychosocial sessions which used play, music and drama to help children deal with their experiences of Washi, as well as preparing them for future disasters.

He told me, “Our house was totally washed out. We were very shocked.” But he had learnt about preparing for disasters, such as “Being ready all the time and keeping updated with the news, especially the TV at home. I learnt how to save people and what things we should bring in times of disasters.”

The increasing impact of climate-related disasters is yet another reason why children mustn’t be forgotten by the negotiators at COP 18.

Update: 10 December 2012

The path of the typhoon was set to hit the same two cities, Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City, which were severely affected by Tropical Storm Washi. Local government and community organisations organised early evacuations of families in the most vulnerable areas to evacuation centres. The strong typhoon did pass directly over the area, and the cities report zero casualties. Local people were more prepared to respond to a disaster which will save lives in the future. Unfortunately on the east coast of Mindanao, people were less prepared and less aware and hundreds of people have died. Find out more and how Unicef is responding.


Louisa Leadlay is Campaigns Officer in the Public Affairs team at Unicef UK

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