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Children learn life-saving skills in Laos

Today is the International Day for Disaster Reduction, with this year’s theme Live to Tell focusing on the importance of increasing risk awareness among the general public in order to save lives when disaster strikes. With the support of ChildFund, children in Laos are now learning life-saving skills for the future.

In the year 2016, we are witnessing a world where the number of disasters occurring has increased exponentially, and where almost 70 million children are affected annually. However, disaster risk management knowledge and practices are not growing at the same rapid pace.

As Robert Glasser, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), describes: “Despite many successes there are still far too many lives being lost in predictable events because of failures to deploy early warning systems, learn lessons from past events and to grasp the growing threat of climate change and its impact on extreme weather events including storms, floods and drought.”

With world leaders now working towards new targets within the Sendai Framework, more initiatives are underway to reduce mortality during, and after, disaster events. Key to this is providing local communities with the skills, knowledge and tools to mitigate risk.

For ChildFund Australia, including young people in this training process is absolutely vital. Not only is this a way to realise children’s rights to participate, but it builds resilience among youth and makes DRR efforts at a local level much stronger. This means the whole community can be better prepared to face disasters head-on when they do strike.

Nine-year-old Palay lives in Nonghet District, one of Laos’ most mountainous regions. Her village is home to around 500 families, and faces a range of extreme weather events every year including severe hail, floods and resulting landslides. Not only does this put lives at risk during the event, it can have a devastating impact on families over the long-term, causing homelessness, devastation to crops and livestock, and potentially severe food shortages.

Palay describes how floods in 2012 affected her family. “My house and most of the crops were damaged. Some of my ducks, chickens and cattle were dead and some floated away in the water current. Other families were affected too, and meant some people were living with starvation,” she says.

Daily life was hugely disrupted. “My family had difficulties cooking because we could not make a fire. And it was very hard to travel from one to another place, so I could not go to school,” Palay recalls. “We had no experience in preparing ourselves in an emergency, so every day my parents just tried to block the water from coming inside my house. They didn’t know what else to do.”

But just recently, Palay was one of 10 students from her local primary school taking part in a re-enactment of that terrible flood in 2012, facilitated by ChildFund Laos. Having already taken part in two other training sessions, Palay and around 80 other children were given the opportunity to put their newly acquired disaster management skills into action. This included conducting emergency drills, establishing first aid areas and working collaboratively, and to an agreed plan, to mitigate the risks of the ‘flood’ which had just occurred.

“I feel so happy that I had the opportunity to be involved in this activity, and get ready to face a natural disaster using a real-life demonstration,” says Palay.

During the re-enactment, families from Palay’s village were trained on a range of techniques to prepare for possible floods, and ways in which they could reduce the extent of damage — both loss of life and destruction of property.

“The flooding of my house and other houses in the village has made me want to have much more knowledge so that I can rescue villagers, especially my own family. In 2012, I was still a little girl and never saw a natural disaster like a flood before, so I did not know how to help anyone,” says Palay.

She adds: “I have gained a lot of useful knowledge and can share it with other people who did not attend the training, so they too can prepare themselves for a disaster. I explain to my friends that our village is located in an area which is risky, so we must all be careful and be ready at any time.”

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