Poverty, disasters, and the children in between

Carin van der Hor
Poverty, disasters, and the children in between
'This new normal means that we have to integrate development and humanitarian work, ensuring that children and their communities are prepared for whatever comes their way, no matter how rich or poor they are.'

What do children, poverty, and natural disasters have in common?

As the Philippines celebrates the 22nd National Children’s Month this October, the answer is “far too much.”

We need to look closely at the harmful relationship between children, poverty, and natural disasters. It’s now absolutely clear that our poorest children suffer the most when a disaster strikes.

It may be a coincidence that the International Days for Disaster Risk Reduction and Poverty Eradication also fall in October, but the link between children, poverty, and natural disasters is far from a coincidence. Even a glance at child poverty statistics in the Philippines and the disaster risk profile of areas prone to multiple hazards reveals how the combination of poverty and disasters creates ‘double vulnerability’ for children, who are the most vulnerable group in any population and under any circumstance.

A 2014 report from the Philippine Institute for Development Studies shows that the number of income poor children in the Philippines has now reached 13.4 million, over 1/3 of all children aged below 18. Notwithstanding these numbers in income poverty, the same report identifies about 10 million children suffering other deprivations particularly in health, education, and living standards – to include decent shelter, safe water, and sanitary toilet facilities.

While the Philippines registers consistent annual growth rates, these statistics confirm that growth doesn’t benefit everyone – evidence of a growing and disturbing trend among middle-income countries.

Tipping the vulnerability scale even further is the Philippines’ very high risk to disasters (third in the world as of 2012). About 74% of our population is vulnerable to multiple hazards. In addition to earthquakes, landslides, flooding and other events, about 20 typhoons enter the Philippines every year, the strongest one to make landfall in recent history recorded just last year, when Category 5 Typhoon Yolanda crossed central Philippines.

Despite this repeated exposure to risk, a 2009 UN global assessment on disaster risk put the possible mortality rate in the Philippines at 17% higher than Japan’s, if both were to be hit by the same cyclone with the same intensity at the same time. Poverty plays a big part in this unacceptable discrepancy.

Last year, Typhoon Yolanda lashed Eastern Visayas, one of the poorest regions in the Philippines and also most prone to natural disasters. It’s hard to imagine the devastation and loss (of already meager possessions) among the 2.6 million poorest households, not to mention the fear and uncertainty of the 5.9 million children that stood in the typhoon’s path.

Over the last year Plan International Philippines, one of the country’s largest and oldest child-centered international NGOs, has been providing relief, recovery, and rehabilitation assistance to about 1.3 million Typhoon Yolanda survivors.

LOST. UNICEF estimates 1.8 million children have been displaced since Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). Photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP

To date, we have programmed more than $61 million (P2.74 billion)* – one of the biggest contributions from child-centered INGOs – and need $9.5 million (P425.7 billion) more to complete recovery work over a period of three years. We had worked in these regions for more than 50 years before Yolanda – and we will be there long after.

The participation of children and youth lies at the center of everything we do. This includes our priority areas of health, protection from violence and disasters, and education, as we work with grassroots communities, the government, and other stakeholders including legislative champions, civil society coalitions, the private sector, and even the media.

Adjusting to the ‘new normal’

The days when we can pretend that natural disasters are ‘abnormal’ have long passed in the Philippines. This ‘new normal’ means that we have to integrate development and humanitarian work, ensuring that children and their communities are prepared for whatever comes their way, no matter how rich or poor they are.

“This ‘new normal’ means that we have to integrate development and humanitarian work, ensuring that children and their communities are prepared for whatever comes their way, no matter how rich or poor they are.”

– Carina Van der Hor

This has brought us to the principle of “building back better and safer.” It is not enough to simply address disaster recovery and rehabilitation, we need to make sure that the impact of future disasters is reduced through a strategic convergence of our various interventions – and that communities emerge stronger and more resilient.

As part of this, in Plan’s recovery program areas, we have introduced climate-resilient model shelters that integrate programs for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), psychosocial support including providing community-based consultation platforms for children to inform planning and evaluation processes, strengthening social safety nets through capacity-building and cash-for-work for disaster-resilient carpentry, and other initiatives.

At the policy level, Plan International Philippines recognizes the urgency of reviewing the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Law, ensuring that vulnerability is considered and addressed, and ensuring that inputs from vulnerable groups – including children – inform the process.

We also support the introduction of legislation that protects children in emergencies – from ensuring continued access of children to their basic needs to support immediate recovery, to strengthening institutional measures on civil registration and vital statistics for the effective monitoring and reporting on the status of affected children and ensuring their continued access to social services.

This is what the entire spectrum of the ‘new normal’ brings: development that is disaster- and climate-resilient, and development that is inclusive, ensuring that the most vulnerable are protected and enabled through safety nets in the short term, and through education and health investments for children in the long term.

Plan International Philippines sees these not as challenges, but as opportunities. More than anything – and fuelled by the Filipino’s unbreakable spirit – we are passionate about keeping the Filipino child at the center of all this, whose hope is kept alive, who can grow and achieve their full – and unlimited – potential. – Rappler.com

Carin van der Hor is Country Director of Plan International Philippines


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