Issue 48 - Article 6

Smart and just: involving children and young people in post disaster needs assessment

September 1, 2010
Daniel Walden and Kelly Hawrylyshyn, Plan International UK
A child awaits the distribution of meals by WFP (United Nations World Food Programme) in a make-shift camp in Jacmel January 28, 2010

Post Disaster Needs Assessments (PDNAs) are meant to ensure that both the needs and the opinions of everyone affected by and responding to a disaster are taken into account. It is widely accepted that those directly affected should be heard, and many agencies have developed strategies and tools to allow this. But it is rare that children and young people – who often comprise more than half of an affected population – are consulted. Guidelines for conducting PDNAs do not recognise the value of young people’s views. This article shows that children and young people can offer very valuable perspectives, and should be formally included in PDNAs.


Getting the views of children and young people

Over two weeks in February and early March Plan International, in partnership with UNICEF, organised 54 focus group discussions (FGDs) with children and young people across Haiti. Preparations included designing a child-friendly PDNA methodology and training 18 Haitian facilitators (nine females and nine males, representing each of the nine departments covered) to lead the FGDs in the local Creole language. The 18 facilitators, whom Plan and its local partners had worked with in the past, learnt about the PDNA process, and received refresher training on child rights, particularly the rights to protection and participation. Separate focus groups were held with different age groups (5–10, 11–16, 17–24), further divided by gender.


Child-friendly methodologies for PDNAs

A number of child-friendly participatory methodologies can be used to help children affected by a disaster communicate their feelings, concerns and ideas. Recognising that children’s perspectives are different from those of adults, and that many children lack the skills and means to express themselves, these tools make use of visualisation and drawing. Through the body map tool, for example, children focus attention on an anonymous child (whose body’s outline they have drawn on a large flipchart) and are guided through a series of questions to share information on the impact of the disaster on this imaginary child. The body map uses different body parts to address potentially sensitive issues, such as abuse, violence, loneliness and fear. Starting with the head, children are asked what they are thinking about, worrying about or feeling happy about, and whether the way adults think about children has changed. Focusing on the eyes, are there changes in the way children see their world, communities, families and themselves? Are there any changes in the way adults see children? For the ears, children are asked if there have been any changes in what they hear, and how adults listen to them. With the mouth, are there any changes in the way children speak, or adults speak to them? For the heart, are there any changes in the way children feel, and adults feel about them? For the hands and arms, are there changes in what activities children do, and the way adults treat them? For the feet and legs: any changes in where they go and cannot go?

These tools are adapted from Action for the Rights of Children (ARC) resource pack 2009,

The consultations considered the four key areas of the Haiti PDNA, namely the social sector (including education and health services), infrastructure, production/the economy and governance and security. This was more than an extractive Q&A exercise. The focus groups allowed most children their first formal opportunity to share with their peers how the earthquake had affected them. It also gave them the space to debate the priorities for the reconstruction process. The children were encouraged to express their hopes and dreams for the future of their country, and identify specific contributions they could offer.

 The reality of life for Haiti’s children

Prior to the earthquake, Haiti’s children faced many problems, including high rates of infectious disease and HIV/AIDS, poor education, low nutrition levels and economic insecurity. One in seven did not reach the age of seven, and 22% of under-fives were malnourished. Disaster risks posed ever-present threats of flooding, especially during the annual hurricane season. Most of Haiti’s children were trapped in poverty.

In the focus groups, it quickly became clear that education was a very high priority. Children explained how access to good-quality education was a major problem before the earthquake, with schools in poor condition, inadequately resourced and staffed, and with fees too high for most people. Prior to the earthquake, only half of Haitian children attended primary school, less than a quarter attended pre-school and 83% of all schools were non-public, many of them poorly regulated and supervised. The national literacy rate was under 53%. Over half of 20-year-olds had not completed secondary school, and near half of young people in the labour market were unemployed.

Children emphasised the importance of schools for restoring routine and normality following the trauma of the earthquake. One nine-year-old from Western department said: ‘I dream of a new Haiti, where children go to school … I have dreamed another Haiti where I go to school and meet my friends and teachers. I miss them so much’. Children also stressed the need for safe schools. One girl from the Western department described her experience: ‘When the earthquake occurred, I was in the schoolroom. I thought the building was collapsing. I fell down the stairs and I was rescued down there. Thank God, I was not seriously injured. Since then I stay at home doing nothing. I would really like schools to be rebuilt’.

‘We are Haiti’s present; we will be Haiti’s future’

The consultation groups also helped young people to understand how the government and the international humanitarian community were planning the reconstruction process. Young people expressed their interest in actively participating in the reconstruction of their country. An 18-year-old girl from Western department said: ‘Children and young people must find the necessary psychosocial support and must participate in rebuilding the country to avoid stress. We want to work. We want jobs’. According to a 13-year-old girl from South-East: ‘As a personal contribution to the reconstruction process, I could participate in cleaning activities in my village – there is so much garbage everywhere’. With a clear vision of a resilient future, these girls challenged the stereotype that sees children simply as victims; they wanted to be heard and involved.

Protection was another priority area identified in the FGDs. Children spoke of an upsurge in insecurity following the earthquake and were determined that this should be addressed, particularly in temporary camps where the risk of violence, abuse and trafficking is high. One 17-year-old girl from Beudet in the West said: ‘After the earthquake, I slept outside the house, but because of bandits and thieves, we had to go back inside the house’. The children’s view of protection also included the need for better protection from future disasters. One girl from the 17–24 age group told us:


When the earthquake came, I thought it was the collapse of the earth. I have seen people with broken arms and legs without any chance of being assisted. I think there were so many victims because we were not prepared to face that kind of disaster. I think it is important to provide psychosocial support to young people and to help the people be better prepared.


Children complained that they did not really know how to prepare for an emergency. The education curriculum does not include disaster risk reduction – a very regrettable omission in a country so vulnerable to so many hazards. Nonetheless, the children knew that the degraded environment, inadequate natural resource management and deforestation were making them even more vulnerable to disasters such as floods and landslides. Many of the children and young people stressed that preparedness and disaster prevention were essential components of the rebuilding process, and they offered several suggestions on how this could be done, including making roads more robust, controlling construction and enforcing building standards. Children also called for steps to revitalise agriculture, improve access to information and communication technologies, renewable energy supplies, better transport, better governance and decentralisation. As one teenage boy put it:


Reconstruction should not only apply to Port-au-Prince, because if only Port-au-Prince is rebuilt, people in the rest of the towns will be soon leaving to Port-au-Prince and shanty towns will grow and grow. We need schools, universities, industries in towns so that people can stay in their original towns.


Conclusion: smart and just

Vulnerability to disaster risks arises from a number of different sources, including social exclusion and lack of consultation. This is especially the case for children. Participation in disaster response, recovery and rehabilitation grants those affected by disasters, a large number of whom are inevitably children and young people, the opportunity to have their voices heard. Including children in PDNAs ensures that a major part of the population is engaged in building back better and building resilience. This in turn contributes significantly to their own recovery from trauma and loss.

The official PDNA report set the price for reconstruction at $11.5 billion. The findings from our consultations with a small sample of Haiti’s children and young people illustrate how they can contribute to decisions about how this money is used, monitored and accounted for. The reconstruction process must address children’s priorities if it is to have long-term benefits. Children and young people in Haiti are ready to learn and take part in making theirs a better future.


Daniel Walden is DRR Programme Officer at Plan International UK. Kelly Hawrylyshyn is Deputy DRR Programme Manager at Plan International UK. The report from the Child-Centred PDNA is available at



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