Ribeiro, Ana Sofia (2017). '“We learned that floods aren’t fun!” empowering children in disaster risk management policies' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


Climate change impacts are increasingly being felt all over the world, and scenarios for next decades demand preparation for extreme weather events, such as floods, heat waves or storms, that will occur more frequently even in developed contexts,. Addressing those and other risks, the Sendai Framework (2015-2030) of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) recommends a more inclusive, bottom up approach for building community resilience, including “vulnerable” groups such as children in the design and implementation of public policies of the area. From a sustainability perspective, such inclusion is critical, since children will be the most affected in the long term. Moreover, children have the right to be heard in matters of their own interest, and to have their opinions considered, as stated the in Convention of the Rights of Children.


CUIDAR - Cultures of Disaster Resilience among Children and Young People, is an European project  funded by the Horizon 2020, whose main objective is to understand the perceptions of risk, needs and capacities of children and young people in the context of urban disasters and to promote the communication with civil protection services and other stakeholders and decision makers at local and national level. Lead by the University of Lancaster, the project brings together academic and NGO partners from Italy (Save the Children IT), Spain (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya), Greece (Panepistimio Thessalias), UK (Save the Children UK) and Portugal (ICS-University of Lisbon). The project has a common framework that seeks to promote children participation in public policy debates, however each partner tailored its disaster approach to fit local contexts


In Portugal, the team choose to focus on disasters caused by climate change. The project is composed of consultation workshops with children and young people from the 4th and 9th grades held in three cities. These workshops, in addition to stimulating children's reflections on this theme, provided an opportunity for the design of communication materials with specific messages addressed to stakeholders. The workshops are followed by meetings with representatives of local institutions involved in disaster planning and response, where children and adult participants present their ideas and debate on equal footing.. While the design of the workshops is participatory and does not pursue an educational aim, it is expected that throughout the process children develop reflexive and analytical skills that will foster their own agency.


This contribution critically examines the challenges of including children and young people in the development of public policies, specifically discussing the conversion factors of personal, social and environmental nature that can limit their capability for voice, identified during the workshops’ sessions. Ultimately, this contribution will argue the value of using a capabilities approach against a children’s rights approach when designing and implementing children participation strategies that aim to empower young people as agents and engaged citizens.

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