• Authored By: Pauline Nakitende
24 Jan 2024

In the face of natural disasters, one category of people is hardly talked about: children. Yet studies have shown that as disaster events become more frequent, children between five and 15 years remain the most at risk for negative effects.

According to Uganda’s National Risk and Vulnerability Atlas, the country is vulnerable to seven different kinds of natural disasters including floods, drought, earthquakes, lightning, landslides, hailstorms, and windstorms. These hazards have an impact on schools, residential areas, roads, and health facilities – places that are likely to be frequented by children.

A study by an academic at the US’ Colorado State University found “children are psychologically vulnerable and may develop post-traumatic stress disorder or related symptoms; are physically vulnerable to death, injury, illness, and abuse.”

In Uganda, preliminary results from an ongoing study by EPRC and UNICEF, on hazards that are affecting children, indicates that drought, floods were the most intense and dominant hazards. Sickness of a family member and income earner also remained a concerning issue.

Most natural disasters in Uganda over the previous 40 years (1985–2021), according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have been caused by floods (55%), landslides (15%), drought (12%), landslides (9%), and storms (9%). World Bank 2021 reports that over 200,000 people have died because of such natural disasters, and at least $80 million in economic losses has been incurred.

The World Bank further reports that 78,600 individuals were affected by floods in 2019 and that number increased to 131,500 in 2020. Some 130,953 persons impacted by landslides in 2019.

According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), landslides, floods, and drought have caused 1.8 million people in Uganda to be internally displaced since 1998. Among the most vulnerable categories are children. Children are impacted by disasters in a variety of direct and indirect ways. For example, due to the recent rainy season and subsequent floods in many parts of the country, there have been fatalities among children. Reducing vulnerability is one strategy for protecting them during disasters.

Children are particularly vulnerable because they depend on others for survival, emotional support, decision-making, and lifesaving skills. Preparing for calamities includes giving children more attention, which will lessen their vulnerability therefore disaster education is a key component in preparing these children for emergencies.

Studies have shown that children’s knowledge of disasters and their perception of risk are greatly increased by disaster education. By educating them about disasters, adults can benefit from the knowledge that children have, which could also increase adult preparedness.

Schools play a vital role in reducing the risk of disasters by offering children the best environment for disaster preparedness using curriculum and textbooks, qualified teachers, and peer education.

Heavy flooding in Eastern Uganda saw deaths of a number of people, including children. Photo/Daily Monitor

Educating children about hazards is smart investment in several ways. First, children are better able to comprehend the various risks they may encounter. Schools can teach children how to handle emergencies by doing practices and role-playing scenarios that cover topics like evacuation procedures, where to find shelters, and how to administer basic first aid. Practical lessons on putting together emergency kits and appreciating the value of having an emergency plan can be incorporated into the educational programs.

Second, children can manage their stress and anxiety both during and after a dangerous occurrence by developing emotional resilience. Activities, talks, and counseling services in the classroom can help teach coping mechanisms and manage the emotional impact of disasters.

Third, children are more equipped to think critically, which helps them evaluate the circumstances and make wise judgments in an emergency. In the classroom, problem-solving activities and scenarios can help children become more skilled at handling unforeseen circumstances.

Fourth, those children are better able to communicate, seek assistance, and work together in times of need. Children should be taught how to identify accurate information from misleading information and how to obtain information from trustworthy sources.

Finally, children who receive an education are more likely to adopt a culture of readiness and take an active role in ensuring both their personal safety and the safety of their communities.

Disaster risk reduction through education and public awareness programs aimed at all those whose wellbeing and activities can be significantly affected by disasters and whose activities are likely to lead to the occurrence of a disaster is important.

The best way to lessen the effects of hazards is to make sure children understand them. Uganda has integrated disaster risk education into its primary school curriculum. Two theme approaches have been developed for use at the primary school level. Lower primary students, who are between the ages of 4 and 8, learn through charts that show the causes of disasters and how to deal with them. For upper primary school pupils, ages 8 to 13, performance and story creation related to disasters is used. However, this is restricted in certain schools since some are unable to pay for the required supplies and to provide their teachers with the appropriate training in the area.

More effort is needed to make sure that hazard education is age appropriate and pertinent to the community. Promote community participation in hazard education initiatives to build a sense of shared accountability and solidarity. Increase collaboration with educators, parents, and local government agencies to inform children about potential risks to develop a thorough and comprehensive strategy.

Featured Photo/UNICEF


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