A force to face nature’s fury

The Philippines is the third most disaster-prone country in the world, next to Vanuatu and Tonga, according to the 2011 World Risk Index.

In a report, it said that the Philippines is at risk to a wide range of climate change impacts, including changing rainfall patterns, temperatures, and increased extreme weather events.

With or without global reports like this though, the country has already been feeling the impact of climate change for many years. Last year and this year alone, the Philippines experienced several extreme climate-related disasters. According to the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), the typhoons Pedring and Quiel which flooded 35 provinces in Luzon, claimed 100 lives and damaged US$100 million worth of agriculture and livelihood; typhoon Sendong which buried villages in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, killing 1,200 people and damaging US$34 million in livelihood, agriculture, and infrastructure; the 6.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Negros Oriental in February, with a death toll of 51 and US$9-million damage to infrastructure; and most recently, the southwest monsoon in July which flooded several areas in Luzon and Metro Manila, killed 118 people and destroyed US$75 million worth of infrastructure and agriculture.

Realizing that nothing can no longer be done to control nature's fury, three international non-government organizations has decided to partner and come up with a program to empower and increase the resilience of children and communities, and help them adapt to climate change.

MULTI-STAKEHOLDER APPROACH

The consortium, composed of Plan International, Save the Children, and the Institute of Sustainable Futures of the University of Technology in Sydney will undertake the Child-Centered Community-based Adaptation (CC-CBA) Project over a 30-month period in the provinces of Aurora, northern and eastern Samar, and southern Leyte, which are considered highly vulnerable to typhoons, storm surges, and flooding.

Carin van der Hor, country director of Plan International in the Philippines, said that the project will benefit more than 150,000 people in 40 barangays in the four provinces. Of this number, about 15,000 children in elementary and high school as well as out-of-school youth will be tapped to participate in the project.

"As the Philippines is extremely vulnerable to these kinds of disasters, it is important that we ensure the safety of children and the youth. Therefore, we hope that these people who will directly and indirectly benefit from the project will keep the ball rolling, so to speak, and influence other provinces to adopt similar programs," says Van de Hor whose organization has long been involved in educating communities and children in Samar and Leyte on disaster risk management.

According to Save the Children, over 175 children around the world will most likely be affected by climate-related disasters by 2015.

THE POWER OF THE YOUTH

While the project will rely on the support of government and local leaders, school heads, teachers and partners like the Department of Education, the consortium will also use the power of the children in coming up with their own ideas, strategies, and activities for climate-change adaptation in their communities, as well as in influencing their parents, families, and community leaders to enact policies and laws concerning it.

"Children are the best agents of change. In the identified provinces, these children are mostly the victims of these disasters so they are really passionate in voicing out their concerns, needs and problems to their community and local leaders. They talk to their local councils, produce public service announcements and even make a video relating to climate change," relates Rachel Nuestro, head of the consortium.

Plan International Communications officer Mardy Halcon recalled how one group of active high school students in southern Leyte who underwent training on disaster risk management, have worked to transfer their school to a safer place.

"After an earthquake hit their province, the students who come from a school near a landslide-prone area, lobbied to have it transferred, against their parents' and elders' wishes. Their parents didn't want the school to leave its original venue due to its rich tradition and memories. But with the help of Plan International, they were able to hold meetings with their local leaders who eventually heeded their call. So through the children's initiative, the school was finally transferred to a safer place," shares Halcon.

AusAID senior program officer Anne Orquiza echoes this initiative, saying that they see strong merits in putting the children and the youth at the center of community actions to prepare for disasters, adapt to climate change, and build resilience. AUSAID is a major supporter of the project. It will provide small grants initiative worth P100,000 each to groups for the implementation of local CC-CBA action plans.

Unlike Plan International's Disaster Risk Reduction activities, Nuestro says the project now aims to equip children, youth, communities and local governments with the right knowledge in adapting to disasters.

"It's a proactive stance for climate change, not reactive. It's more of what we can do to prevent disasters. For instance, to mitigate storm surges, we must plant more mangroves, and avoid building houses along the shore," says Nuestro.

Activities of the project include the enhancement of existing educational and awareness materials for climate change for children; creation of a trainer's program on use of Child-Centered Climate Change Risk Assessment Methodology; training of teachers on the use of these materials; compilation, packaging and dissemination of resources; and evaluation of lessons and documents produced on use of climate change educational resources.

Children and the youth will also be encouraged to come up with climate change activities and risk assessments in their communities, as well as the creation and implementation of local CC-CBA action plans. Finally, the consortium hopes child-centered adaption programs and policies will be institutionalized at the local level.

Moreover, the consortium also aims to strengthen the evidence base of a CC-CBA program to encourage replication and support. The Department of Education, a partner in the project, is expected to continue the program in the schools in other parts of the country.

"The children are the most vulnerable when it comes to disasters. We want to lessen their vulnerability and increase their resilience. Through the project, they will know what to do in emergency situations. Instead of waiting for help, they will be able to help themselves and their families," Nuestro concludes.

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