Poorest urban children failed in disasters, says report

News, 3 March 2014
Disasters in Asia's megacities hit the poorest children hardest, a report finds.

Flooding in a Manila slum particularly affects street and slum children (Photo: Jörg Dietze/SuSanA Secretariat via Creative Commons http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

The study reveals that street and slum children are the most vulnerable to environmental hazards, climate change and natural disasters – with girls at particular risk.

But aid agencies often treat children the same as adults and fail to address the specific risks they face, despite their very different needs.

The International Institute for Environment and Development and children's charity Plan International will launch the report, co-authored by David Dodman and Donald Brown, in London today.

Asian countries are among the most disaster-prone in the world – with a large proportion of the population under 18.

Tens of millions of street children are estimated to live in Asian cities, with numbers expected to increase.

They remain at the margins of society, often without a legal identity and unable to access basic services.

"Girls and boys are often badly affected by disasters because of their stage of physical and psychological development," says Dr David Dodman. "This report illustrates how the poorest children are affected in different ways and the importance of their surroundings in shaping this. The majority of disaster risk reduction programmes in urban Asia fail to address this issue.

"Therefore efforts must be made to engage, not only with children, but also with the institutions that are responsible for providing risk-reducing infrastructure and services," he adds.

More than 340 mostly street children were surveyed for the report in four large Asian cities: Dhaka in Bangladesh, Manila in the Philippines, Jakarta, Indonesia and Kathmandu in Nepal.

Many were concerned about the daily hazards they faced, such as violence and disease, but also felt unprepared for disasters.

None of them had had any disaster training, despite living in vulnerable areas.

The report also paints a disturbing picture of the living conditions of the poorest children in the cities surveyed:

  • In Manila, ALL children interviewed in-depth had witnessed at least one murder (13 children)
  • Child workers in Dhaka and Kathmandu identified their workplaces as the most unsafe places to be, due to the risk of building collapse
  • Children in Jakarta were malnourished, surviving on 60p-£1 per day for food, making them more susceptible to deadly illnesses

Tanya Barron, Chief Executive of Plan UK, says: "In our experience children – and especially girls – are the most vulnerable in disasters and emergencies.

"Those living in overcrowded urban environments already have many hazards to contend with on a daily basis.

"They are exposed to even greater risks in disaster situations, including exploitation, violence and neglect.

"More needs to be done to provide the basic services poor urban children need in order to grow up healthy and safe so they can fulfill their potential, but also so they are better able to cope when disasters strike."

Contact for interviews: David Dodman (david.dodman@iied.org)

Download the full report.


Mike Shanahan
Press officer

International Institute for Environment and Development
80-86 Gray’s Inn Road
London WC1X 8NH, UK.
Tel: +44 (0)20 3463 7399
Fax: +44 (0)20 3514 9055

Email: mike.shanahan@iied.org

Notes to editors

Plan International is a global children's charity. For more than 75 years it has worked with children in the world's poorest countries to help them build a better future.

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is an independent, non-profit research institute. Set up in 1971 and based in London, IIED provides expertise and leadership in researching and achieving sustainable development (see: www.iied.org).

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