July 30, 2015
Children are among the most vulnerable segments of society to the adverse effects of disasters. Their rights to survival, development, protection, and participation should then be prioritized in making and implementing policies and programs on disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM).
This should be among the concerns of relevant government agencies and other authorities as Metro Manila prepares for the eventuality of a huge tremor emanating from the West Valley Fault system with a metro-wide earthquake drill.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has alerted the public that the West Valley Fault, which passes through various cities in the metro and nearby provinces, may cause a 7.2-magnitude earthquake, resulting in 30,000 deaths and 100,000 injuries.
The country’s location in the Pacific Ring of Fire and at the edge of the Pacific typhoon belt exposes millions of Filipinos to great risks from natural hazards such as the feared “big one” in Metro Manila. In fact, a recent study by British risk analysis firm Verisk Maplecroft showed that eight Philippine cities are among the top 10 cities that are most vulnerable to earthquakes, storms, and other disasters. Moreover, the growing threat of climate change exposes Filipinos to more disasters.
Disasters endanger lives and compromise the delivery of basic social services, especially to children. Despite this, little space is provided for children to be able to meaningfully participate in the crafting of policies and programs on disaster risk reduction and management. As a result, existing DRRM policies and programs are not responsive to the specific needs and demands of children, exacerbating their vulnerability.
The UN Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC) mandates State Parties to take into utmost consideration the best interests of children in their programs and policies. CRC also recognizes the evolving capacities of children, acknowledging that children develop enhanced competencies that enable them to make decisions on their own. The UNCRC likewise guarantees children’s right to freely express their views and opinion on matters that affect them.
Research shows that children hold great potential in making tangible contributions to DRMM policies. A study by the Institute of Development Studies and Children in a Changing Climate Coalition in 2009 showed that children provide holistic and long-term perspective in analyzing disaster risks and can communicate their analysis to peers and parents. Their optimistic attitude translates into action and can influence adults in mobilizing resources to address disasters.
As a country that has a good track record in legislation for children and as State Party to the CRC, the Philippines must provide opportunities for children to participate in the policymaking process to ensure that government climate-related and disaster-related policies and programs protect and fulfill children’s rights and needs. It is not enough that children are included in drills and other activities for disaster preparedness.
Children should be given an active role in the formulation of their community disaster preparedness plans and in information and awareness drives in their communities. One opportunity where children can participate substantially is their inclusion in national and local DRRM councils.
The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) supports the call for the institutionalization of children’s participation in different stages of disaster risk reduction and management. The ongoing review of R.A. 10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 should not miss this serious concern and should duly consider children in improving the law.