How to be a Kabataang Superhero: UNICEF, OCD empower Filipino youth in disaster risk management

There is a global call for Climate Justice and Disaster Risk Management that needs to be communicated more among Filipinos, especially to the youth whose future will be most impacted by the devastating calamities brought about by climate change.  

This was the main focus of the recently concluded two-day immersive workshop conducted by UNICEF, in partnership with the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), to inspire children and youth participation in child-centered disaster risk reduction (CCDRR), climate action, and overall resilience building. 

Aptly titled KABATAANG SUPERHERO: Taking Stock and Scaling Up the CCDRR Practices in the Philippines, the event was held both onsite at the Crowne Plaza Manila ballroom in Ortigas, Pasig City (with 175 delegates coming from all across the Philippines) and online via Facebook livestreaming and Zoom video conferencing where 291 registered participants attended virtually.  

Speakers and facilitators from UNICEF, OCD, other partner institutions, and various youth groups and youth leaders in the country convened to unanimously advocate for the protection of every child's right to survive, learn, and grow up in a safe and sustainable environment. KABATAANG SUPERHERO enjoined them in identifying effective ways and means on disaster risk reduction, particularly on how it impacts the children, who are tomorrow's leaders.

The Philippines, being one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, is also one of the most vulnerable to climate change. According to the Children's Climate Risk Index, which was published in 2021, the Philippines ranks 31st out of the 163 countries where children are most at risk to the impact of climate change. 

"Children are the least responsible for climate change, yet they bear the brunt of its impact today and will bear its brunt tomorrow," said UNICEF Philippines Deputy Representative for Programmes, Mr. Behzad Noubary. 

"There are 2.2 billion young people under the age of 18 worldwide. Placing children at the center of disaster management has immense potential and impact. Involving children in DRR and harnessing their ideas and actions can reduce vulnerability, build resilience, and contribute to the safety and wellbeing of their communities as well as contribute to sustainable development. The participation of children and the young brings real and necessary benefits to disaster risk reduction and resilience building policies, programs, and strategies. More importantly, it upholds their legal rights as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the rights of the Child. We an already see the impact of child-centered DRR in the Philippines through the many programs and projects that all of us here have been part of," Noubary added, addressing the crowd at the KABATAANG SUPERHERO event. 

Disasters that hit the country cost not just the livelihood but also the lives of many Filipinos. Children are most at risk as these disasters greatly affect their education, health, and their future.  The CCDRR program embodies the rights of children and the youth, giving them opportunities to share their opinions and knowledge on how they can strengthen themselves and their communities. Their needs are also prioritized so that they can live healthy, free, and safe from any disaster. 

Climate change remains to be a technical term and a complex topic to discuss, especially with ordinary people. "In the Philippines, when we talk about climate change, all we know is 'bagyo'. That's the challenge for advocates and for science communicators. We have to discuss climate change in a way that is understandable to the people; they should be able to connect to the topic," said Marlon Matuguina of Save the Children Philippines.

"During disasters, learning is oftentimes disrupted, which leads to short-term and long-term impact on children in our society. Children's rights to basic, quality education is dependent upon their right to safety and survival. There should be a good balance of quality education and ensuring that the children are safe, and that there's also continuity in learning.

"It's important that we get the message across to the children. Adults should be supportive and ensure that they give an enabling environment for the children to be heard and for them to participate [in child-centered risk reduction practices]," Matuguina added. 

The KABATAANG SUPERHERO event proved to be a memorable and enlightening experience for the youth delegates. They were able to express themselves, share their opinions on how they can help make a difference, as the future generation of leaders, in fostering the rights of every child to survive, learn, and be protected. Through this UNICEF initiative, the young Filipino participants were able to discover their inner heroes in advocating and shaping a better future for all. 

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