Diary from Sendai: Voices for the future

Chris de Bono, UNICEF’s Regional Chief of Communication in East Asia and Pacific, is in Japan for the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. 
Yesterday was a day when the voices of children were heard loud and clear at the 3rd World Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction, while governmental delegates struggled in closed rooms seeking a consensus on the global risk reduction framework.
Youth delegates presented their positions at a special working session titled, quite appropriately, “Don’t decide my future without me”.
This formal presentation followed days of energetic and powerful engagement by young people in the parallel Children and Youth Forum.
The message that the youth delegates passed to their elders at the conference was simple. “We can play a role, we will play a role, and even if you don’t act on disaster risk reduction, we will,” proclaimed one young man, bluntly, from the floor of the meeting.
Two days ago, the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, addressed the Children and Youth Forum and accepted a ‘khipu’ – a traditional knotted talking rope from Andean South America – from 17 year-old youth delegate Debra Gonzales, from Peru.
Youth delegate Mou Herrgard, speaking on behalf of the European youth participants, told the Secretary-General that “the changes that need to be made on disaster risk preparedness are too important to be made without young people.”
Speaking to the Secretary-General on behalf of young people from the Pacific, youth delegate Inangaro Vakaafi said that her people were currently living through a disaster that was exacerbated by climate change, in the form of the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam. She explained that she was determined to “make resilience a part of our culture.”
Youth delegate: “We want to save lives”

 

UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake, shows a child’s drawing of the
2011 Japanese tsunami to delegates at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction
© UNICEF EAPRO/2015/de Bono
Yesterday, UNICEF’s Executive Director, Anthony Lake, also met with the youth delegations. Among the young people were students he’d met in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.
He heard from one young Japanese student from Onagawa, who told him about the three lessons learned from the 2011 tsunami which were illustrated in drawings by her class about preparation and risk reduction.
She explained that bonds within the community needed to be improved. In 2011, there were instances of children trying to convince the elderly to evacuate to higher ground, but they did not listen and they lost their lives. These children live with the trauma of not being able to save their grandparents and community members. Onagawa’s children have organized community events to build these relationships.
Lesson two was that communities need to learn to co-exist with the ocean. The children plan to install evacuation lights to easily guide community members to safety to higher ground. She also mentioned the importance of drills.
And lesson three was the importance of recording their experiences. “If we don’t record our experience, the same thing can happen again in the future,” she told Mr. Lake.
The children of her region are building stone monuments to commemorate the disaster, the first of which Mr. Lake visited last year. The monuments also mark the line that the tsunami reached so that if such a thing happens again fleeing people can easily tell when they have reached a safe distance from the coast. “We want to save the lives of people who are living in our community 1000 years from now,” she explained.
In his opening remarks to the formal special working session at the WCDRR yesterday, Mr. Lake showed delegates a drawing that was displayed in a primary school in one of the communities hit hard by the 2011 tsunami. The drawing shows children defying the approaching wave. He described the drawing as both inspiring and instructive. “It reminds us that, while we cannot prevent disasters from happening, we can prepare for them,” Mr. Lake explained.
Startling statistics

 

A traditional khipu has pride of place  on the podium at the special
working group on children and youth at the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.
© UNICEF EAPRO/2015/de Bono
Mr. Lake provided delegates with some startling statistics. By the end of the 1990s, climate-change related disasters affected about 66 million children per year, he explained. But in coming decades, that number is projected to reach 200 million children. Experts predict that more children will die, more children will be out of school and more children will be facing the risk of trafficking, abuse, exploitation and forced labour, he explained.
He also told delegates that the risk was greatest for children from the poorest and most vulnerable communities, those living in urban slums without proper drains or storm-management systems, those living in distant, isolated communities that are hard-to-reach and those facing lack of services because of prejudice or because they disabled.
“We cannot prevent floods, storms, droughts from occurring,” he concluded. “But with better planning, preparation and response, they don’t have to become disasters.”

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