International Day for Disaster Reduction is celebrated each year on the 13th October. This year, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Secretariat has announced that the theme is Making Youth Partners for Disaster Risk Reduction, with the slogan Step up for Disaster Risk Reduction. This is a basic call for action to all children and young people to step up to the challenge and get involved in the disaster risk reduction effort.
Youth are tomorrow’s decision makers and it is essential that the unique perspectives of children and young people are included in disaster risk reduction.
Hazard Management Cayman Islands has an established disaster awareness outreach programme for schools and drills are practiced on a regular basis. In addition, Disaster Reaction Coordinators have been assigned for the schools and relevant information is incorporated into the curriculum.
Studies show that children often find it difficult to cope with unexpected and painful interruptions to their regular schedules. On average each child in the Cayman Islands lost over 40 days of school following the passage of Hurricane Ivan in 2004. New schools and the remodelling of existing establishments have made school buildings more resilient to the impacts of disasters. Since the passage of hurricane Ivan there has been a strong commitment from the successive governments to take appropriate steps to protect children and to adopt a child centred approach to disaster risk reduction. It is clear that schools must be safe and that education must be interrupted as little as possible.
Government recognises that children need to be provided with special care when they are traumatized by disasters and these resources are now freely available through the Counselling Department; we are working to ensure that school administrators, teachers and parents are also aware of these resources, and that they know the signs of disaster related trauma so they can respond appropriately.
It is hoped that the good practices and principals of disaster risk reduction will eventually be adopted by everyone in the Cayman Islands and that it becomes second nature. Young people are being provided with the support and information they need to become participants, decision makers and implementers in the disaster risk reduction process.
Government recognises that community participation is a good thing and it is appropriate to empower communities and individuals and schools to take charge of their own disaster risk reduction. If we increase youth participation and form partnerships with our young people, the Cayman Islands will become an even better place to live.
With over a month and a half to go before the conclusion of this hurricane season now is not the time to let our guard down. Maintain your state of readiness and involve our young people in this important process of being prepared. God Bless and Protect us all.
Donovan Ebanks, deputy governor and chairman of the National Hazard Management Council