Header photo: ©2019 UNICEF/UNI226037/Mark Naftalin

By Tamara Plush

When hazardous events like floods, fire, or pandemics reach the point of disaster, the impact experienced by the most vulnerable children and youth can be profound: education disruption or loss, psychosocial trauma, food insecurity, increased violence, and even death. For reducing disaster risk, attention on children and youth must be at the forefront of policies, plans, and standards. This not only promotes their rights to survival and protection as agreed to in the Convention of the Rights of the Child (OHCRC 1989), but to civic participation when they are active contributors in the decision-making process at all ages and stages of their development.

UNDRR Launches Words into Action Guide

The Words into Action (WiA) guide launched by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) on Engaging Children and Youth in Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience Building (UNDRR, 2020) highlights the value of involving young people in DRR. Through examples and recommendations, it showcases ideas for engagement when implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (UNDRR, 2015), which was adopted at the World Conference on DRR in March 2015 by 187 Member States. The publication offers practical guidance for supporting and engaging children and youth within and across multiple sectors and when facing often overlapping risks and hazards threatening child and youth wellbeing (such as COVID-19 and food insecurity due to drought; floods and all forms of violence that can increase after hazardous events; wildfire evacuations and the subsequent impact on mental health; etc.).

Tackling the challenges of a future characterized by increasing and more severe hazardous events undoubtedly requires ideas, expertise, and action from all citizens in all communities. Here, understanding and utilizing the strengths of the 1.8 billion young people living around the world (UNFPA, 2014) must be more than tokenistic. When children and youth can meaningfully participate, their contributions have been proven to lead to more inclusive DRR and resilience-building policies, better prepared households, healthier children and youth, and safer communities (UNDRR, 2020). What this means is that involving young people in DRR efforts not only holds potential to lower their own risk in times of crises, but also the risks faced by their peers, families, and the wider society.

Guide Offers Ideas for Governments, Practitioners, and Youth

The WiA guide highlights best practices relevant to governments, practitioners, and youth for developing DRR policies, plans, programmes, standards, and advocacy strategies for and with young people. Its development was guided by Advisory members from the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF as the lead agency), UNDRR, Save the Children, Plan International, the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth (UNMGCY), the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), World Vision, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). As well, more than 100 additional contributors—including young people—provided input for the guide, which elaborates on five key recommendations:

  • Meaningfully support children and youth as rights-holders in reducing disaster risk—ensuring their survival, protection, development, and participation.
  • Recognize that children and youth are not only key stakeholders in implementing the Sendai Framework for DRR: they can also act as leaders and in decision-making roles with appropriate support.
  • Leave no child or youth behind in DRR, especially in regard to gender equality, disability, age, Indigenous Peoples and ethnic minorities, migrants and displaced populations, and socio-economic status.
  • Increase the collective impact of DRR and resilience-building through a multisectoral approach to DRR. This requires working for and with children and youth across sectors, including education; health and nutrition; water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); social protection; child protection; livelihoods; the environment; public open spaces and placemaking; and shelter, housing, and human settlements.
  • Use creativity, innovation, and play in DRR to support the emotional, social, cognitive, and physical development of children and youth, which can strengthen their resilience.

Partnerships Can Create a Better Future

Tragically today and for the future, disaster risks and impacts will continue to be exacerbated by the consequences of poverty, inequity, conflict, fragility, discrimination, unplanned and rapid urbanisation, weak institutional arrangements, non-risk-informed policies, unsustainable use of natural resources, declining ecosystems, extreme weather events, disruptive climate change, and increasing environmental, social, technological and biological health hazards (UNDRR, 2019). Now, more than ever, communities need DRR plans and policies that not only work for the youngest populations, but also work with them as partners and agents of change. The Words into Action Guidelines on Engaging Children and Youth in Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience Building promotes young people and duty bearers joining together to create a safer future where everyone can thrive.

As children and youth from UNMGCY say in the introduction to the WiA guide: “We want to leave the world a better place than we found it… Let’s start now!”


OHCHR (1989). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Available at www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx. (Accessed: 14 May 2020). United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner

UNDRR (2020). Words into Action Guidelines on Engaging Children and Youth in Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience Building. Available at www.preventionweb.net/publications/view/67704 and www.preventionweb.net/files/67704_wiachildrenyouthresources.pdf. (Accessed: 14 May 2020). United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

UNDRR (2019). Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2019. Available at https://gar.undrr.org. (Accessed: 14 May 2020). United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

UNDRR (2015). The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. Available at www.undrr.org/publication/sendai-framework-disaster-risk-reduction-2015-2030. (Accessed: 14 May 2020). United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

UNFPA (2014). State of World Population 2014: The Power of 1.8 Billion: Adolescents, Youth and the Transformation of the Future. Available at www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/EN-SWOP14-Report_FINAL-web.pdf. (Accessed: 14 May 2020). The United Nations Population Fund.


Dr. Tamara Plush was the lead author on the Words into Action guide on children and youth working collaboratively with the Advisory and the guide’s contributors. She is a global consultant based in Victoria, Canada, with a passion for ensuring child and youth voice and meaningful participation in DRR. (www.tamaraplush.com).