Recognising the urgent need to respond to rapid societal and environmental change, resilience is one of the University of Twente’s spearheads. As an academic institution, we have a role to play in strengthening the resilience of the social, technological and environmental systems that support us. In this weekly series of the Resilience@UT programme, UT researchers share their personal reflections on current events and trends that impact our daily lives, exploring their implications for resilience. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. In this issue, Funda Atun draws our attention to the important role of the younger generation in disaster resilience.
A common opening line in articles and reports on the future of cities is ‘’68% of the world population will live in urban areas by 2050’’ (UN 2018). Have you ever considered how old will you be in 2050? I will most probably be retired by then. A child born today will be 27 years old in 2050 and will probably be living in one of the new urban areas together with 2.5 billion other people. Today’s children will form the largest segment of the population in 2050, some of whom will be leaders and decision-makers in their respective countries.
The United Nations considers anyone younger than 18 years old as a child and the percentage of these children has been constantly increasing. In 1996, it was one-quarter of the world’s population (UNICEF 1996) and in 2014 it had increased to one-third (UNESCO 2014). In Africa, in 2015, children younger than 15 years old accounted for 41% of the entire African population (UN 2015, The World Population Prospects: 2015 Revision).
Thanks to Greta Thunberg, society has experienced an activist movement that is unprecedented. The young climate activists demonstrate a desire to be involved in decision-making processes that are about their future. It is not the first time children raise their voices, but it is the first time that everyone hears them. We are at the doorstep of a more open, vocal and coordinated civil society. The movement should not remain as just another form of activism, nor should it be seen as tokenism.
Considering that decisions taken collectively and by each individual will affect the resilience of future cities and societies to a changing climate and dwindling natural resources, it is necessary to focus on the largest segment of the future population, today’s children. Children can, and in many instances do, contribute significantly to reducing the impacts of climate change and various disasters. Children are highly interactive individuals and are able to recognise the value of the collective good.
The latest UN framework on disaster risk reduction states explicitly the importance of involving children and youth as agents of change in disaster risk reduction and supports this action with legislation, national practice and curricula (UNISDR 2015). Children-led disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation is now even a new academic research theme.
My prior work with children goes back to 2015. First-hand experience with children in research settings has taught me how distanced we as scientists are from the largest segment of our global society. Children learn quickly and develop skills to protect themselves and their families if the opportunity is provided. Children have the right to participate in activities which are related to their future, as active, strong and knowledgeable actors. Despite their true potential in disaster resilience, children tend to be passive victims with no role to play in communicating, participating in decision-making, or in preventing disasters. Children are not helpless victims but the agents of change in the face of the climate crisis.
- United Nations (2018). World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision-Key Facts. New York: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
- United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, Key Findings and Advance Tables. Working Paper No. ESA/P/WP.241.
- United Nations Children’s Fund (1996). Annual Report 1996, UNICEF, New York.
- UNESCO (2014). Roadmap for implementing the Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development. the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paris, France.
- UNISDR (2015). Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (p. 32). United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). https://www.unisdr.org/we/inform/publications/43291
Funda Atun is an assistant professor with the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and Geo-Information Management in the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation at the University of Twente.
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