New Delhi : Megacities have drawn much of the attention when it comes to urban disaster risk. Mapping the terrain of interaction between disasters and at-risk children, Bal Raksha Bharat (globally known as Save the Children), launched a report – Child-centred humanitarian response, planning and action for urban settings in India, marking the World Earth Day on April 22.
Based on commonalities and variations in risks and responses that affect children across varied demographic, geo-climatic, socio-economic contexts, findings have been drawn from across 5 cities of Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Patna and Pune. One of the major concerns that came out of this study is waterlogging and localised flooding, which does not make headlines as urban floods, but even though it is a low-intensity event it creates a significant impact over time due to its high frequency of occurrence.
The worst affected city in this regard is Pune, where children feel extremely unsafe in their neighbourhoods. The absence of a deliberate child-centred approach is seen from the fact that the Pune plan has only two references to children, one related to compensation and the other to feeding bottles in relief camps. Kolkata’s plan also has two references, one in the context of their vulnerability, and the other around thermal comfort during first aid. Hyderabad’s plan considers children along with other special vulnerable groups and highlights the need for their requirements to be met during relief and for training, without goings into specifics. Delhi’s plan also has a hazard centric approach rather than a vulnerability centric one, and children are among the vulnerable groups to be attended to during relief and preparedness actions, without any specific actions highlighted for them.
The report, conducted in areas with high exposure to hazards, draws out right from the impacts of calamities on children to their involvement in prevention and relief work. It states that across the city-level and state-level disaster management plans there is an absence of child-centric approaches or even specific child-based needs. While education departments and schools are covered under the departmental response and preparedness planning processes, these do not go into any details.
Mr. Sudarshan Suchi, CEO, Bal Raksha Bharat (Save the Children) shares, “As in any humanitarian crisis, children and women particularly girls and those differently abled, senior citizens are most affected, they face different challenges and barriers and have unique needs, more often ignored or missed out. It is imperative for all us together to invest in research, preparedness, and operations to make the urban humanitarian response – well prepared, with adequate skills, with coordination structure and SOPs in place”,
The lower access to infrastructure and services, along with massive population density and poor infrastructures, massively increase the vulnerability of people living in sub-standard housing across slums, squatters, urban villages, regularised colonies and peri-urban areas to any disasters. As a consequence of the combination of heavy rainfall and poor drainage facilities, this may be seen as a local issue till a major flood occurs, but to the community, this still is a stress that leads to sustained losses. Such issues are local vulnerabilities and often go unaddressed in the state, national, and city-level disaster management plans.
Mr. Manish Thakre, Head Urban Programme and Policy, Bal Raksha Bharat (Save the Children) shares, “They are at greater risk of being injured or killed in hazards, the majority of which are climate weather related. The ignorance of children’s existence and their voices in decision-making processes is a common practice and it is contrary to Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This denial of children’s agency and right to participate in decision making processes that directly affect their lives has implications for whether these processes will adequately respond to their needs. It also limits the extent to which these processes can benefit from the unique insights and innovative solutions that children can generate.”
Despite growing acceptance of the realities of the increased risk of calamities and the importance of children in urban planning, there is relatively little research, policy, or practical attention paid to children’s well-being in the light of calamities, and how disaster management and policies can account for their perspectives, experiences, and interests. Besides that, little attention is given to the specific risks that young girls and boys face, the challenges of the communities around them, or the factors that can contribute to their resilience, especially in the context of humanitarian aid (Brown, D. & Dodman, D., 2014). In that context, this study aims to create a framework for understanding the needs, priorities, and demands of children concerning humanitarian relief work, and how policymaking for disaster relief can evolve to better cater to their needs.
Even the consequences of natural disasters are being felt more acutely due to poor urban planning and increased vulnerability for marginalized and lower-income households. Yet surprisingly, policy and disaster relief frameworks continue to lack representation of children’s interests and remain oblivious to their needs and demands.
Reference is made to climate change while addressing weather-related natural hazards and resultant disasters with reducing degree as we move downwards from the National Plan, which makes a very detailed analysis of the linkage of disaster management with the Paris Agreement and alignment of climate and disaster risk reduction actions, to the state plans that refer to climate change in passing, to the city plans where there is no mentionable aspect of climate change mitigation and adaptation, and alignment with the disaster management approach.