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Agency and Resilience

Available Open Access under CC-BY-NC licence. Disasters are an increasingly common and complex combination of environmental, social and cultural factors. Yet existing response frameworks and emergency plans tend to homogenise affected populations as ‘victims’, overlooking the distinctive experience, capacities and skills of children and young people.

Drawing on participatory research with more than 550 children internationally, this book argues for a radical transformation in children’s roles and voices in disasters. It shows practitioners, policy-makers and researchers how more child-centred disaster management, that recognises children’s capacity to enhance disaster resilience, actually benefits at-risk communities as a whole.

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In developing a cultural framework for disaster risk management (DRM), CUIDAR has been a transformative project. In particular, such a project had to be sensitive to the ideas, needs and imaginaries of children and young people, a group that is particularly dismissed and neglected when authorities are considering, planning for and responding to hazard and disaster situations. From the beginning, we knew that this was going to be a major challenge, due to the dearth of examples, guidance and best practice, particularly at a European level. But it was also challenging because placing children and young people's participation at the centre of the project would imply a major transformation for most of the actors involved in DRM, from schools to policy-makers, from experts to emergency responders. This was foreshadowed in our Scoping Review, as Chapter 1 points out, in which we found few legal, political and practical examples of children’s meaningful participation in this field. In addition we found very little knowledge and awareness of children's rights. This context then served to foreground one of the main challenges for CUIDAR: dealing with a well-established ‘adultist’ culture of DRM that mostly prioritises the voices of practitioners and experts.

Thinking about the notion of culturesof disaster resilience among children and young people involves placing an emphasis on children’s capacities rather than their vulnerabilities. Cultures are those that grow up in particular places (to borrow from the biological sense) and reflect shared meanings between people, materials and places. We have seen through the examples in this book how groups of young people living with risk have intervened to reduce that risk by drawing on their acute awareness of local conditions (for example, Glasgow, the UK and Sant Celoni, Spain).

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‘I think they should give more opportunity to the young people's opinions, because although they think we are immature and that we are going to say outlandish things, it is a lie, there are many young people that are very mature.’ (Young participant following an event with policy-makers, Portugal)

The role, visibility and activism of young people in the context of disaster has grown exponentially since 2018. As we were drafting this book, the young activist Greta Thunberg was receiving a human rights award from Amnesty International as an ‘Ambassador of Conscience’, joining previous recipients Malala Yousafzai and Nelson Mandela (BBC, 2019). On Twitter, using the hashtag #FridaysForFuture denoting the global school strike movement, Greta declared: ‘This is not my award, this is everyone's award and would not have been possible without everyone striking every Friday because of the climate crisis.’

Fridays For Future, School Strike for Climate, Juventud por el Clima (there are different names) was in turn inspired by the youth-led strikes in Parkland School in Florida, a protest against the US gun laws that young people said enabled a massacre on their campus on 14 February 2018. The following month, a national school walkout took place together with the US-wide March for Our Lives rally against gun violence. That summer, Greta Thunberg began to sit in protest outside the Swedish Parliament, and we have since seen a transformation, led by young people, in our understanding of what counts as a disaster and who gets to say what must be done.

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Addressing disaster risk with a young audience poses particular challenges. As seen in the previous chapter, although the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030(UNDRR, 2015) underlines the need to include children and young people as active participants in disaster risk reduction (DRR), governments and practitioners are often reluctant to engage young people in matters that may cause them distress or be above their perceived level of competency.

So, with a few exceptions, children and young people are virtually invisible as active, engaged participants in national and international emergency planning processes for disasters (Anderson, 2002; Deeming et al, 2011; Walker et al, 2012, Mort et al, 2018b). Studies have shown that when they are mentioned, they are positioned as vulnerable recipients of aid and consequently problematic for emergency planners (Mellor et al, 2014). Yet understanding children's perspectives has been demonstrated, by organisations such as Save the Children, to be a vital part of building resilience. The 1990 United Nations Convention on Children's Rights states that children are community members and citizens in their own right. When it comes to disasters, they have the potential to play an important role in shaping more effective responses at local and national levels (Save the Children, 2011). Most studies of hazards and disasters fail to recognise the role of children and young people as social actors, who are attuned to cultural differences in their community and possess specific knowledge of their local area, knowledge which is shaped by age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic class, disability and educational opportunities (Peek, 2008; Wisner, 2006; Walker et al, 2012).

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Following exploration of our stepped approach in Chapter 2, here we detail how the roles children and young people can play in disaster risk management (DRM) started to become visible. What we learned from CUIDAR is useful not just for advancing knowledge about children's agency, but also to provide practitioners with guidance on how to work with children, which outcomes to expect, and the advantages and challenges encountered along the way. This chapter draws on the Dialogues, Mutual Learning Exercises (MLEs) and National Policy Debates conducted in the five participating countries. It blurs the boundaries between different stages of the project to focus on transversal outcomes and lessons learned through continued work with children and adult stakeholders.

We begin by assessing the lay of the land with regard to children's rights and participation in DRM, and how this was changed through the CUIDAR experience. Then we discuss how children appropriated the concept of disaster differently from standard definitions or as used by adult stakeholders, and the interplay between causes and impacts of disaster, by drawing from their own experiences and perceptions. Following this we highlight the importance placed both by children and adults to access reliable, accurate and useful information on DRM as well as strategies and means to convey that information to others. Finally, we address the imperative of considering children’s needs while preparing for and responding to an emergency, as well as challenges in directly involving children in disaster risk reduction (DRR) actions.

We realised early on that both child and adult stakeholders were mostly unaware of children's rights to participation. Many had never heard of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child(UNCRC), let alone Article 12, which confers on them the right to have their voices heard in matters that concern them.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into disarray almost all spheres of human activity. Research is no exception. When labs and research centres closed, scientists were told to stay at home, scientific events were cancelled or postponed to an uncertain date and most scientific projects had to be put on hold or modified substantially.

This chapter concerns the adjustments and adaptations that have had to be made in one such project, Persist_ EU, an international project aimed at bringing together European university students through the organization of participatory events in five cities. The participation of students should provide needed insights into knowledge, perceptions and opinions on science and how these can be changed by engaging and discussing controversial scientific topics.

According to the Flash Eurobarometer no. 239 (European Commission, 2008), European youth believe that interest in science is essential for future prosperity and scientific research should chiefly serve the development of knowledge. Young adults are actively involved with content created by scientists when it is presented in the new model, which involves two-way communication (Bauer et al, 2007) and sees the participants as stakeholders of science, encouraging active engagement (Hargittai et al, 2018). They are more likely to participate in scientific activities that have an interdisciplinary aim and engage with topics that have become popular in the twenty-first century, such as vaccines and climate change (Bauer, 2011).

This chapter describes how the project methodology was modified due to the containment strategy against contagion in two countries: Portugal and Germany.

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