'Child-friendly' language for disaster preparedness

A child plays near his family's temporary shelter in Leyte, Philippines, where super typhoon Haiyan left more than 600,000 people homeless. Child-friendly warning language should be developed as part of disaster preparedness, according to Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles. Photo by: Arlynn Aquino / ECHO / CC BY-ND

One of the most heated discussions in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan was how the Philippine government could have saved more lives if only it had been able to convey a better understanding of terminologies such as a ”storm surge.”

But if most adults had no clue what that means — and how it is any different from a tsunami — then why should children?

During her recent trip to Tacloban, Save the Children President and CEO Carolyn Miles shared with Devex grim stories of children trapped in their houses during the storm.

One child, she said, was stuck in the first floor. The floodwaters were rising up to her waist, but she could not go upstairs for fear of being taken away by the wind, which had already blown off their roof. The child, she explained could not go out and had to stay down, as both disasters were happening at the same time.

“I think the Philippines is much more involved than other countries in terms of warning systems, but children don’t understand what ‘surge,’ ‘gust velocity’ and all those things mean,” Miles argued. “Categories of typhoon — that they understand, but not what the levels mean, and what they can do to prepare.”

This is why Save the Children, in a report published on Thursday, is calling on the Philippine government and relevant agencies to develop “child-friendly early warning language” that children can understand and properly respond to. Miles said some of the teenagers the organization has spoken to also expressed interest in having a role in disaster preparedness, not just someone who needed to be protected.

“If they knew more, they could’ve done more to protect themselves,” she noted.

These however are not the only concerns children raised. They also expressed hope for the fast re-establishment of schools, and the introduction of new classes teaching “life skills” such as building shelters or swimming, which could be helpful during and after calamities like Haiyan.

At present, kids are taking shifts in school, as most of the classrooms were destroyed in the storm. In a school in Tacloban, for instance, only a fifth of the classrooms are functioning — although Miles still thinks this is better than doing nothing and waiting for the infrastructure to be built.

“The government wants to do the right thing. They said they are managing the rebuilding, including making sure infrastructure would better withstand storms. But you’ve got to balance that in getting kids get back to school asap,” she said.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.