ISDR Informs - The Americas



Understanding Disasters from a Child’s Perspective
Antofagasta, Chile

The viewpoints of five students who attended the Natural Disaster Course of the DELTA UCN program for managing information and understanding disasters.

Mass media globalization has allowed people to obtain, in just a very few seconds, information about what is happenings anywhere in the world. Very quickly they receive, sometimes in awe, information about the aftermath of natural phenomena that have triggered disasters, or about what might happen as a result of devastating events, such as mega-earthquakes, through computer simulations.

The way the world is perceived, based on the information made available by the media, is indeed a topic of interest, especially when we consider that children are often the main media consumers.

For this reason, information that affects how children perceive risks and the events that to some extent affect their communities, and how they think these communities should respond to natural phenomena must be handled responsibly. This could be done through study programs that help them to understand and learn about risks, natural phenomena and disasters so that they, in turn, can contribute to building safer cities and societies in the future.

Over the years, this has been a very enriching experience in Antofagasta. Since 2005, the Northern Catholic University of Chile has led the process through courses and workshops on natural disasters and related issues, under the auspices of the DELTA Program (Developing and Leading Academic Skills) intended for children ages 10 to 17. The comments of some of these young participants are presented below. This process is related to Priority 3 of the Hyogo Framework for Action, which places emphasis on the need to use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels.   

Photo: UNICEF/Anthonyasael

Children and disasters
Mauricio Ignacio Lagunas Véliz, age 13, Las Rocas E-87 School, Antofagasta – Chile:

Sometimes we wonder why disasters happen, why we lose our loved ones, how we could have prevented them, or how we could avoid them in the future.

Natural events like earthquakes, mudslides, tsunamis, and other phenomena have always happened and will continue to happen. Normally, because they are so strong, they tend to be very catastrophic. But no matter how disastrous they can be, some of their consequences could be prevented.

People must accept with responsibility that their safety depends, above all, on themselves. Disasters affect all of us: children, the elderly, adults, the disabled, and sick people. We all put our lives at risk if we are unable to forecast and prevent the dangers.

Most victims are usually children and the elderly, since young people and adults can hang on to something or climb a tree. They stand a better chance of escaping.

One thing that can help us prevent a disaster is to carry out emergency drills. We also need to be aware that this is not a game. Because it could happen at any time, we need to be prepared.

Education is fundamental for avoiding disasters. We children can teach our parents and friends what we have learned in lectures and/or at school.

During the natural disasters course of the DELTA program, offered at the Northern Catholic University of Chile, Cynthia Rojas Castillo, teacher and journalist, helped us to understand the different types of disasters, how to prevent them, and how and why they produce negative consequences. This has all been very interesting since these phenomena occur quite frequently around the world, and could therefore also affect us.

How can we, as children, teach our parents about risk and disasters?
Sergio Javier Soza Díaz, age 13, “Julia Herrera Varas” F-99 School, Mejillones – Chile,
Adults have the bad habit of thinking “Since it’s me, nothing bad will happen.” But this mindset is clearly wrong, and since they usually do not pay attention to the advice of experts (who usually do not belong to our families), we, as children, (myself included) must learn how to prevent disasters, whether they are due to earthquakes, mudslides, tsunamis, avalanches, fires, etc.

To do this, these recommendations will come in handy. By just looking around us, wherever we are, we can try to identify risks. It is also good to learn some history about the city we live in, to know if there were disasters in the past, and what areas were affected.

A safe city is a place where people help each other, where things are built with people in mind. In 2020, Antofagasta will be a safer place, and people will be more aware of risks in the city regarding disasters due to natural hazards and other events. And this will be possible because we the children of today will be the adults of tomorrow.

Prevent and educate
Roberto Daniel Leaño Álvarez, age 13, Las Rocas E-87 School, Antofagasta – Chile.

Dear ISDR readers, my name is Roberto and I would like to tell you about disaster prevention. One of the biggest problems is that no matter how hard people try, it is often not possible to convince our city mayors and nations’ presidents to help prevent and/or mitigate disasters and risks.

In terms of prevention, our biggest problem in Antofagasta are mudslides (although there are other issues as well). This, because there is no way of stopping them in high areas, not because of the lack of mitigation measures but because slopes are steep and, especially, because poorer people live illegally in the most dangerous areas. In other words, the highest-risk areas are occupied by a large number of families and, additionally, they themselves build their houses, using poor quality materials.

The truth is that we cannot completely prevent a disaster from happening; a disaster is fatal, no matter how or when it happens, even if we take adequate prevention measures. We can, however, reduce its negative effects if we act in anticipation, because prevention is cheaper than reconstructing and experiencing great losses.

How citizens react to a disaster
Ricardo Araya Arcos, age 12, “Juan Pablo II” D-129 School, Antofagasta – Chile.

In any type of urban disaster (earthquakes, tsunamis, or other events), people always panic, for one simple reason: the lack of information.

The government, the authorities and people themselves are not adequately informed about prevention measures, and even if they are, panic (which can be overwhelming) makes them run away without considering the risks.

Emergency drills should not be announced in advance, so that people are taken by surprise and not given warning or time to prepare. They should not be a show that make some people look good in the eyes of the of the community. What is important is to know where the flaws are in terms of people’s reaction.

We must take our mistakes into account and learn from them. We can improve many aspects with a bit of willingness and awareness, recognizing that nature will always be unpredictable.

Disaster in Aysen, eleventh region of Chile

María Perez Pereira, age 12, “Japón” D-58 School, Antofagasta – Chile.

Beginning on January 23, 2007, frequent tremors of varying magnitude were felt in the Aysén area, casusing panic among the area’s residents.

In light of this situation, the government sent a group of specialists to study the seismic recurrence. Tremors did not stop, and we were told that a volcano is forming in the Aysén fjord. People are afraid of what might happen, but no one is thinking that aside from the tremors there are other risks to consider, such as landslides.

The strongest tremor so far was felt on April 21, an VIII-intensity event on the Mercalli Scale. Its epicenter was located near Puerto Aysén, Chile, and it had a 6.2 magnitude on the Richter scale. When the earthquake occurred, everybody got scared but no one was injured or died as a result.

Problems arose along the fjord coastline. Several landslides caused waves greater than 6 meters, which destroyed many houses in the Punta Tortuga area.

It was a tragedy, but it could have been a disaster. Fifty fishermen were safely evacuated by boats, while ten people were still missing by sundown having been dragged by the waves caused by the landslides.

The bodies of six people were never found, and the risk of more tremors and landslides continues to frighten the community. Aysén was declared in a state of emergency due to the possibility of other earthquakes. Fear still persists.

For further information, please contact:
Journalist – Associate Researcher, Northern Catholic University of Chile
Professor, DELTA UCN – Natural Disasters
56 092147615