Child Rights and Education among Top Concerns in Philippines Relief Effort

28/12/2011 - United Nations agencies have launched efforts to protect orphaned and separated children from exploitation in the storm-affected Philippines, as well as to ensure their schooling continues.

In the nascent stages of recovery from tropical storm Washi, which struck a deadly blow to the island of Mindanao on December 17, it has been estimated that more than 1,100 people are dead. About 1,000 people are still missing and a total of 39, 437 homes have been destroyed.

About 14,000 children from the Philippines, including youngsters separated from their families, make up about a third of the displaced persons camping out in evacuation centres.

The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) has called for the continuance of access to learning for disaster-affected children. The normalcy of schooling is often one of the main institutions to be interrupted in humanitarian disasters.

The UNISDR is promoting its Children’s Charter, a disaster risk reduction plan developed by children which advocates for safe and uninterrupted education in times of crisis. The Charter was developed as part of the agency’s youth empowerment programme. 
Planning for schooling in case of emergency can be an important action for governments.

“In times of emergency, communities are likely to prioritize needs related to people’s immediate survival and will not have the resources to address the basic need of affected school children and teachers,” warned UN the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, adding that the long term value of education to children’s futures cannot be disregarded.

Children’s rights can be endangered in a number of ways when disaster strikes. Orphans and unaccompanied minors are particularly vulnerable. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has called for the registration of orphans with the government in order to prevent them from falling victim to trafficking, exploitation and other forms of abuse.

“There are also no community-based child-protection networks in evacuation centers,” said the OCHA yesterday, adding that 87,500 children need camp assistance to help protect them. “Aside from school buildings, some child-development centers remain totally damaged or destroyed.”

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will facilitate access to schooling in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, worst-affected by the flash floods and landslides of the storm. More than a third of a million dollars will be invested by the agency in rebuilding learning environments and replacing educational tools for the children.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) will also implement its own innovative projects.

“In helping communities recover from conflict, our approach has been to fund quick, relatively low-cost projects (sewing centres, fishing boats with nets, water wells, and market stalls) that involve entire communities," confirmed Bernard Kerblat, the agency’s in-country representative last week.

In total, the UN’s humanitarian platform for the region calls for $28.5 million for relief and reconstruction over the next three months