ISDR Informs The Americas

Riskland: A fun way to learn how to prevent disasters

Photo: ©Fundación Aviomar

Developed by the Costa Rican regional office of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), jointly with the regional office of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)for Latin America and the Caribbean, with the financial support of UN/Habitat, this board game was adapted for Cozumel by the Aviomar Foundation and the Instituto Escultista Independiente [Independent Scouting Institute].

As many other countries, Mexico faces multiple and impending risks associated with natural disasters, which cause secondary emotional reactions among the population. As a result, between 50 and 75 percent of the Mexican population shows post-traumatic symptoms; between 12 and 25 percent reacts with panic attacks, and only between 12 and 25 percent respond effectively and in control (Mexican Post-Traumatic Stress Association). It isy therefore vital that all citizens have an adequate level of preparedness and appropriate information to face both calculated and unforeseen risks. But, how do we explain to children what a catastrophe is, and how to protect themselves in emergency situations without heightened levels of fear or anxiety, when their own parents feel powerless in such situations?
These are definitely difficult circumstances, in particular because the fear experienced by children is even more anguishing than fear in adults. Moments of stress and/or emergency should not become long situations of panic or nervous tension. Gradually and with patience, parents, other family members and teachers can train children so that they have a certain level of preparedness to deal with natural disasters, thereby contributing to their protection. Teaching children how to protect themselves in an emergency situation is as vital as teaching them how to eat or to get dressed.

Children are one of the most vulnerable groups in emergency situations, but they also show significant potential to learn that with an adequate level of preparedness they will be able to protect themselves, as well as their families and their environment in general.

Riskland is a fun game that has been very successful throughout Latin America. Its goal is to teach and prepare children between 8 and 12 years of age, in order to reduce the psychological and emotional impact of natural hazards. To this end, it includes educational messages that help them understand some good practices that could reduce the impact of disasters on them, as well as bad practices that could increase their vulnerability. The game encourages children to take preventive measures while it at the same time it contributes to develop a real and long-lasting culture of protection and safety.

The advantage and unique feature of this game is that it is adaptable to any country or institution that may want to use it, since it includes a number of risk scenarios, such as earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes, among others. This allows us to address different phenomena, in line with the reality of those affected areas.

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The island of Cozumel, in the Mexican Caribbean, is located in a high-risk hurricane and tropical storm area. In 2007, a number of forecasts predicted a very active hurricane season due to the presence of the “La Niña” phenomenon, which brings warm water currents into this part of the Atlantic Ocean, increasing both the intensity and the number of potential storms.

A total of six tropical storms, three hurricanes of category 3 and three other phenomena of category +3 are expected throughout 2008. Taking into account that the maximum historical figure has been five storms and four minor hurricanes of categories 1 and 2, this number is above average. In addition, the historical average has been 2.4 hurricanes, which means that this number has doubled (Hurricanes in Yucatán- The 2008 Hurricane Season (in Spanish)

In this context, the Aviomar Foundation and the Instituto Escultista Independiente (an independent scouts group) decided, for the second year in a row, to adapt Riskland to the needs of Cozumel. In 2006 and 2007, a total of 2,130 children benefitted from this initiative, and participants stated that they have learned to distinguish safe from dangerous places. They also learned about protection measures, in anticipation of a hurricane, as well as the implications of living near the ocean and rivers, how tropical storms are formed, and other related issues that will lead them to a safer future.

While other countries and institutions have used Riskland, the Aviomar Foundation and the Independent Scouting Institute also adapted and enriched the game by including a number of unique elements, such as the active involvement of a group of scouts, mainly made up of university students, which interact as facilitators with children. They hold three sessions with groups of some 35 children each, and include educational and fun games such as Riskland.

Methodology proposed for the use of Riskland in Cozumel

The first session aims at teaching children the main concepts associated with the identification and understanding of risky natural phenomena. During the second session, children learn to identify impending risks related to natural events to which they could be exposed, as well as their homes, neighborhoods and communities. Finally, the third session teaches children to implement basic practical measures in case of a hurricane, so that they can cope with it in a safe and efficient manner.

The results of an evaluation conducted at the end of the first year using Riskland showed that children learned to identify risks associated with natural phenomena, and to prepare in advance for risk and emergency situations, thereby decreasing their level of stress and vulnerability to natural disasters.

The success and the particular elements of this process aimed at educating children through a culture of prevention, allowed Riskland to be named one of the top 19 initiatives nominated for the prize titled “Local Government and Management, Mexico 2007”, as well as one of the 14 most outstanding projects for the “Habitat 2007” award.

There is an increasing number of children who are provided with information and hence are better prepared to cope with risk situations. Children from Cozumel can now face natural disasters with a heightened level of safety and calmness. Along these lines, the Riskland game will also benefit future generations.

For further information, please contact:
Victor Hugo Vengas Molina – Director
Aviomar Foundation, Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico