COPE: helping children and youth prepare for disasters
Author Martha Keswick creates books to help children and youth prepare for disasters.

Blogs

Lina Suarez
Marketing and public relations manager, COPE

It is a challenge to discuss complex topics like climate change with children. How to explain in simple words the recent increase of heat waves, the rise of wildfires, or the melting of the polar ice caps?

When talking about these issues, putting an emphasis on disaster risk reduction (DRR) is highly relevant, as it can empower and improve children's resilience to these disasters. Children will ultimately need to make adult decisions to address the issues posed by climate change.

As a contribution to these challenges, the COPE series was created by renowned children’s book author, Martha Keswick, award-winning illustrator, Mariko Jesse, and global disaster risk reduction expert, Dr Timothy Sim. COPE's strapline is 'Make the Difference. Be ready!'

As a series of beautifully illustrated not-for-profit storybooks, COPE's main aim is to increase the disaster resilience of children. The books cover hazards ranging from floods to earthquakes and wildfires to cyclones and provide coping tools, preparedness tips, and relatable stories promoting key DRR messages:

Earthquakes – DROP, COVER, HOLD; Tsunamis – GET UP TO HIGH GROUND; Floods – EVACUATE; Cyclones – STAY SAFE; Storm Surges – KEEP CLEAR FROM THE COAST; Landslides – IN HEAVY RAINS, KEEP AWAY FROM STEEP SLOPES; Wildfires – BE READY TO GO; Droughts – EVERY DROP COUNTS; Volcanoes – LISTEN, PREPARE, STAY AWARE; Heatwaves – STAY COOL AND HYDRATED (work in progress).

 

 

How did the COPE disaster champions book series start?

According to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 adopted at the UN World Conference in 2015, children have a vital role in strengthening community resilience. COPE recognised the need to promote free disaster risk reduction education and, considering the existing limitation in appropriate pedagogical materials, realised there was an essential opportunity to create educational and child-friendly DRR resources.

In 2015, COPE's author Martha Keswick attended a lunch at Hong Kong Polytechnic University for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) where Assistant Secretary General, Margareta Wahlstrom, discussed building disaster-resistant communities.

Martha came away realising there was a lack of vital disaster risk reduction (DRR) information for children and as one of the most vulnerable groups, wondered how to teach them about DRR. With this task in mind, she came up with the concept of the COPE Disaster Series – www.cope-disaster-champions.com. Martha created and developed the COPE Squad, a team of DRR agents trained at The COPE Academy under the strict guidance of Grand Mistress Fu.

Why is it important to educate children, and especially girls, on disaster prevention and preparedness?

 

a women is reading a story to children
COPE book storytelling session in an evacuation centre in Malaysia. Photo: COPE - disaster champions.

 

Martha Keswick believes that young people can actively influence communities in many more ways than people give them credit. It is therefore important to empower children in Disaster Risk Reduction so they can be an integral part of building up community resilience. "Girls may act as agents of change within households and communities to reduce the risks and impacts of disasters," said Keswick, citing the true story of a young girl, Tilly Smith, who helped save hundreds of lives during the 2004 tsunami whilst on a family holiday in Phuket. Tilly, who was ten years old, had learnt all about tsunamis in her school geography lessons. She was able to identify that the tide was going far out, and the ocean floor was exposed, which are some of the early warning tsunami signs. Tilly alerted people to leave the beach and run up the hill by shouting, 'GET UP TO HIGH GROUND.' As a result of Tilly's simple DRR instruction, many lives were saved that day.

Girls may act as agents of change within households and communities to reduce the risks and impacts of disasters.

At the community level, disaster risk prevention should start with boys and girls. Children are a vital part of civil society and can successfully participate in mapping hazards, raising awareness, and influencing other children, teachers, parents, and communities on how to reduce disaster risks. Children's creativity, curiosity and energy should be mobilised to drum up new ideas for different ways to engage community members in DRR, such as through games or videos. Such DRR investments in today's children are highly sustainable since they are the generation of the future. 

Of course, children lack maturity, and therefore DRR education should be careful not to overburden them with social responsibilities.

Children are a vital part of civil society and can successfully participate in mapping hazards, raising awareness, and influencing other children, teachers, parents, and communities on how to reduce disaster risks. Children's creativity, curiosity and energy should be mobilised to drum up new ideas for different ways to engage community members in disaster risk reduction.

The barriers to children's empowerment in disaster risk reduction.

Children in poorer communities are less equipped to prevent, manage, and adapt to disasters, making them more exposed to climate-related disasters. Children are more vulnerable not just psychologically but physically. They can suffer from post-traumatic stress, become injured or even die. Adding to this, having a disability or other special needs makes them more vulnerable during and after a disaster.

Women and girls carry the weight of the community and are often tasked, both personally and professionally, with caring for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. So, simple life-saving decisions, such as discerning whether to evacuate a disaster area, can sometimes become a difficult choice.

Women and girls carry the weight of the community and are often tasked, both personally and professionally, with caring for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

What can be done to empower boys and girls in disaster risk reduction?

Spread the word! It is of vital importance that children know exactly what to do at that exact moment a disaster should occur. The key COPE DRR instructional messages should be shared with children all over the world, both online and offline, at home and at school, on national and local levels.

 

All COPE content is vetted and approved by DRR experts worldwide. Unlike other similar initiatives, the books are free of charge. COPE collaborates with international organisations such as UNICEF (and the UNICEF Learning Passport), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth, UN Women, UNDRR, World Vision and HKJCDPRI. These collaborators have contributed to creating, distributing, and using the content in DRR education projects in schools and clubs around the globe.

The COPE creative team is currently working to develop the next book - Heatwaves. This book is being written in collaboration with the City of Paris, UNICEF (giving input on Children's rights perspectives), The World Meteorological Organization and The Hong Kong Observatory (Scientific advisors), WHO and The University of Oxford. The Heatwaves book will be launched at the WMO Headquarters in Geneva on October 13th, 2022, to celebrate the WMO's 150 anniversary and International DRR day.