Preparing for natural disasters in Western China
Disasters strike people, their livelihoods and environments. The magnitude of impact is related equally to the intensity of the hazard and the vulnerability of the individuals and communities hit. Lack of preparedness can substantially multiply the damage to life, property and livelihood suffered and the time taken to recover. For three years, we supported UNICEF’s work in Western China to increase public awareness of and preparedness for disaster risks, to mitigate the negative impacts of future disasters and ultimately prevent loss of life. Thanks to a new participatory and proactive approach, communities, schools, health centres and public authorities learned and practised how to prepare for future emergencies, what to do in the event of disaster, how to recover quickly and how to coordinate effectively across sectors to deliver informed essential assistance.
Natural disasters in China have affected 300 million people over the past 20 years, destroying more than 3 million houses and forcing the evacuation of over 9 million people on average every year.
From 2015 to 2018, UNICEF worked in three disaster-vulnerable counties in Western China - Anzou District, Lushan and Shifang - to strengthen the capacity of their communities, particularly schools and health facilities, to withstand, respond to and recover from natural disasters. It also worked with local, provincial and national authorities to improve coordination across different sectors to deliver essential life-saving assistance when and where needed.
Successfully piloting a community-based model, UNICEF worked with communities following a participatory approach to increase public awareness and knowledge of disaster risks and to stimulate behaviour change, which can only come from a proper understanding of the dangers, self-protection and survival skills and mutual assistance practices. This model represents a shift from a reactive to a proactive approach and consequently brings significant benefits: with disaster risks systematically identified, assessed and addressed, and preparedness substantially increased, children and their families become less vulnerable and more resilient.
- As disasters disproportionally impact children, the programme promoted over 100 themed activities in 4 child-friendly spaces. More than 12,500 children and over 7,000 parents learned how to prepare for and what to do during an emergency, practising the required skills in real-life simulations, evacuation drills and role games. Similar activities were held in schools, kindergartens and summer camps, reaching a further 27,000 children and over 60,000 adults.
- Specially designed activities for head teachers, students and teachers improved school safety and supported the development of practical contingency plans.
- During two Disaster Risk Reduction campaigns organised in May 2017 and 2018, local service providers and emergency responders reached out to villages, schools and health centres to enhance public awareness of various disaster scenarios, including earthquakes, landslides and floods.
- A provincial-level resource centre set up in Chengdu in July 2016, together with multiple workshops at county and provincial level, provided advanced training and technical support to key front-line workers and over 200 local government officials, strengthening their emergency preparedness and improving coordination and knowledge-sharing across sectors (education, health and child protection).
- Tens of thousands of communications materials on disaster risk reduction were developed, produced and widely disseminated, including a Safe School Manual and an online video that attracted more than 1 million views.
- Dedicated policies, standards and coordination mechanisms were created or updated to support the Government of China’s disaster risk management efforts and ensure quality assistance in absence of a national key disaster management authority. They include a standardised training package for health professionals, a new version of the health-emergency response plans at county level and an updated version of the “Working Manual on Children’s Places”, with a specific new disaster risk reduction component.