Over 50 children from 13 countries from Asia Pacific met today at the United Nations Conference Center in Bangkok to celebrate the International Day for Disaster Reduction and discuss how they can play a more active role in preventing disasters.
Children are among the most vulnerable groups affected by disasters as seen recently with the floods in Asia but they are also the best "risk reducers" when they are taught and informed about disaster risk reduction from an early age.
Co-organized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Committee on Disaster Management, the Thailand Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation (DDPM), the ASEAN Secretariat, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Asia Pacific Regional Office of UNISDR and partners (ESCAP, UNICEF, Plan International, World Vision), the event in Bangkok highlighted the vital role that children can play in reducing disaster impacts.
"As we have seen in recent days in the newspapers, on television, or with our own eyes on the streets and fields around us, disasters disrupt the lives of millions of children, threatening their rights and their needs," said Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, United Nations Under Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, in her opening remarks. "Children and young people are particularly vulnerable. An estimated 66 million children are affected by disasters every year, and their vulnerability is expected to increase."
"Although children and young people are often portrayed as victims of disaster and climate change, the strong message of the 2011 International Day for Disaster Reduction is that they can and should be encouraged to participate in disaster reduction and decision making," she added. "They are in fact valuable resources and partners for effective risk management."
Mentioning the current floods in Thailand Mr.Youngyut Wichaidit Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand also said that children are key to make a brighter and safer world.
In the morning, 13 winners of the ASEAN and SAARC drawing competition were officially awarded prizes for their drawings. They were also invited to join other children from Harrow International School and the Ruamrudee International School in Bangkok to discuss the Children's Charter and to step-up disaster risk reduction.
The Charter, adopted at the last Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, proposed five main actions to reduce children's vulnerabilities from disasters. Improving the safety of school buildings, integrating disaster risk reduction into the curriculum of children and involving children in the preparedness measures are among them.
"This is the sixth time ASEAN is jointly commemorating the ASEAN Day for Disaster Management with the International Day for Disaster Reduction, involving the school children of ASEAN," says Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, the Secretary-General of ASEAN. "From the drawing competitions held in previous years as well as this year, we can draw innovative ideas and aspirations to better improve our disaster risk reduction efforts. The drawings are ways for the children to voice their ideas and concerns. We should engage and involve them more in our disaster risk reduction efforts," he added.
The children's dialogue was followed in the afternoon by a roundtable with representatives of the Thailand Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation and mayors from the cities of Uttradit, Chiang Rai, Had Yai, and Puket which experienced heavy floods last year. Mayors shared their concerns about the current flood situation in Thailand and discussed with experts measures and policies to better address the recurrent events in the future.
The UN day coincided with the ASEAN Day for Disaster Management (ADDM) and was this year organized thanks to Siam Commercial Bank, Islamic Bank of Thailand and Bangchak Petroleum for their drawing award cash prizes and Royal Brunei Airlines, Myanmar Airways, Garuda Airlines, Vietnam Airlines and Singapore Airlines for flight tickets.
The International Day for Disaster Reduction is organized every year on October 13th to raise awareness about what we can all do to reduce our risk to disasters from earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornados.
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