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How Plan works with children when a disaster strikes

Disaster risk reduction training with Indonesian children

Indonesian children practice disaster risk reduction skills

The risk of natural disasters exists in many parts of the world where Plan operates. That’s why one of Plan’s core areas of work in these countries is disaster risk management, especially working with children and communities.

Rosemary McCarney, former CEO of Plan Canada said, “Children are always the most vulnerable and in disaster situations we know that they’re disproportionally impacted. By working with them with disaster risk reduction work, you don’t have secondary impacts like traumatized children. They are able to protect themselves and have a greater opportunity for survival.”

Five years ago Plan made a commitment to pay more attention to protecting children from the impacts of disasters. Fast forward to today and Plan is now recognized as a lead agency in child-centred disaster risk reduction globally. In 2010 Plan worked with communities in 14 countries to teach children the skills to protect themselves and communities from the worst when a natural disaster occurs.

How does Plan do this with communities and children?

Plan works with children and communities to devise the best ways to protect themselves against the worst when a disaster hits.

Plan starts by asking children to identify the kinds of disasters that happen most frequently in their area or country. We then help them to identify a plan of action around the likely disasters.

For example, if an area is prone to flooding, members of the community will need to be warned about how to mitigate against the worst effects of this flooding. This may mean:

  • Deciding on an information flow and how to find out about imminent floods – contact details of friends in neighbouring villages who can be called on to give information on whether a disaster is predicted
  • Raising awareness of how to deal with these floods by acting out scenarios in a play form to the community and village
  • Deciding on a safe/dry place to store emergency supplies of food and basic commodities
  • Deciding which children will go door to door and warn community members of floods which are on the way
  • Evacuating to higher or safe ground.

Schools also play a vital role in educating children in preparing for disasters. At school Plan helps teachers inform children about:

  • Why disasters can occur
  • What are the effects of these disasters
  • What you do if a disaster, like an earthquake, happens in school.

In El Salvador, youth trained by Plan monitored warnings and made sure people evacuated to shelters before flood waters rose to dangerous levels when Tropical Storm Ida struck in November 2009 (which caused 192 deaths nationwide).

In a flood-prone area of Bangladesh, Plan-supported children's groups were concerned that parents seldom saved for emergencies, making them very vulnerable. Now the children have set up their own savings scheme to help their families buy food and other supplies when the floods return.

In El Salvador, where the proportion of people exposed to disasters is the highest in the world, Plan has set up school protection plans with the Ministry of Education - making disaster risk reduction a key element in teacher training and school infrastructure projects.

As well as building a culture of safety and resilience and supporting children to help prevent and minimize disaster impacts, the long-term perspective of child-centred disaster risk reduction work empowers young people to make informed choices and helps communities begin to plan for more sustainable practices.

If you would like to help support Plan’s emergency relief fund, you can make a donation today.