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Filipino Children Promised Better Disaster Relief

MANILA – Outgoing President Benigno Aquino approved a law that makes children’s needs and welfare a top priority during disaster relief operations.

The Children’s Emergency Relief and Protection Act tasks the Department of Social Welfare and Development to come up with a plan to “be used as the basis for handling disasters and other emergency situations to protect children, pregnant and lactating mothers, and support their immediate recovery.”

The law directs the department to integrate the program into disaster planning and responses of local government units, which are often the first-responders in a crisis.

Under the new law, responders are required to plan for the provision of evacuation centers, transitional shelters and the immediate delivery of services for orphaned, separated, and unaccompanied children, and pregnant and lactating mothers.

The law is urgently needed for one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction rates the Philippines as one of the 10 countries worst affected by weather-related emergencies.

Children often suffer the most in these disasters, such as in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Children are also highly vulnerable in humanitarian crises created by armed conflict, such as the displacement of tens of thousands of residents in Zamboanga City in 2013 and Surigao del Sur province in 2015.

Signing this law, however, need not be President Aquino’s last effort on behalf of protecting the Philippines’ children, according to the Human Rights Watch.

“He still has time to have the Philippines join the Safe Schools Declaration, which marks its one year anniversary this weekend. The Declaration outlines concrete measures all governments can take to better protect students, teachers, and schools from attack during armed conflict,” it said.

“The disaster relief law’s passage is a good first step toward ensuring that the most vulnerable in Philippine society get the necessary resources to mitigate the dangers and disruption of natural and man-made disasters. The ball is now in the government’s court to ensure that the relevant agencies implement the law. More and more children are affected by disasters in the Philippines. They need all the help they can get,” it added. (Carlos Conde)

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