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Now Is the Time to Take Natural Disasters Seriously

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As I relaxed and listened to the radio this August, I was caught off guard when the presenter reported on the floods in Manila, the Filipino capital. Only a couple of months earlier I had visited the Philippines with UNICEF to witness how the country was instigating its Disaster Risk Reduction programmes... I immediately thought of UNICEF's Manila based staff, and the pressure they must be under to provide for thousands who no longer had a home they could enter.

The Philippines is listed as the sixth most vulnerable country to climate change. There approximately 20 typhoons in the Philippines every year; the area we visited Mindanao was not a typical storm area, yet the storm and subsequent flooding killed almost 3000 people last December.

The recent floods in Manila reminded me that we are at the whim of natural disasters and our changing climate. In Britain we cannot begin to imagine the suffering that ensues because a changing climate. As International Disaster Risk Reduction Day approaches it is time to take stock and consider how we can help people whose lives are forever balancing on a knife edge. This year, the day will focus on women and girls and their role in DRR.

Shockingly, women and children are 14 times more likely to die in a disaster than men. At least half of all people who die in disaster are children. It is clear that humanitarian disaster caused by a hostile environment is hurting children and women the most. Children's needs are often undervalued when strategising programmes for disaster risk reduction. UNICEF estimate that there are approximately 756 million children living in the top ten most vulnerable countries to climate change. The impact on children is huge; they often left traumatised, they might lose parents, their daily routine, their school and they are at risk of contracting numerous diseases. In an instant they are left trying to piece everything together.

When we visited the Philippines we met truly a remarkable young woman, Rosan, who was working in her community and providing a strong role model to other young people. When the flood hit her town she realised she had do something to help the many young people who had been left vulnerable, giving them psycho social support to cope with the trauma and skills to cope in case similar floods hit again. Her work was proving to be a life line to the children in her community. But there is only one of her, she can only reach so many people in her town, let alone the country.

Rosan provides an excellent of example of how children have a important role in disaster risk reduction. During our trip we met numerous young people who had got involved in DRR risk reduction either in their school or communities. Children or young people can help identify the disaster risks faced by their communities and be key in implementing DRR programming.

The affects of climate change show no sign of reducing; in 2010 natural disasters affected more than 200 million, killed nearly 270,000 people and caused $110 billion in damages. Whilst we cannot stop places like the Philippines from being vulnerable to typhoons we can reduce our impact on the climate and we can scale up disaster risk reduction programmes. For every $1 that is put into prevent $4 is saved. It makes financial sense, and it reduces the human and economic loss to a country.

We know that there is a growing need or preventative action and risk reduction so there is little incentive not to scale up resources now. The Green Climate Fund presents an opportunity to work with developing countries and for the international community to mobilise resources to combat climate change. It is time we faced up to this long term development issue and not just react when the crisis is on our door step. With the right amount of political will and international community support we could make a real difference.