Post-Haiyan Elementary Classrooms in Leyte (Photo: Stephen Richardson)

Wellbeing as the Desired Human Outcome for Disaster Risk Reduction: A Proposal from the Education Sector

Stephen Richardson
Mar 21, 2015 · 4 min read

Given the significance of the impacts that disasters have on schools and the education of children in crisis-affected areas — with potentially profound long-term consequences for both children and their communities — there has been a growing investment in education-sector Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). The new Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 reaffirmed the commitment of governments around the world to focus DRR efforts on both children and education.

Despite a desire to provide multi-dimensional supports to achieve comprehensive school safety, operational realities often mean that DRR initiatives in schools are in practice divided into two main strands of programming:

Leyte Elementary School Teachers in Front of Classrooms Being Rebuilt (Photo: Stephen Richardson)

i) structural (or ‘hardware’) components (e.g., schools are built in safe sites when available, existing school physical infrastructures are strengthened to be resilient to disasters, disaster management systems, etc.), and

Save the Children Training on School Hazard Mapping (Photo: Stephen Richardson)

ii) non-structural components (e.g., skills development, knowledge acquisition, psychosocial resources, etc.). However, this dichotomy can yield a serious lack of integration at both implementation and outcome levels. To connect these two strands of practice within DRR activities in education, we propose that ‘the wellbeing of learners and educators’ be adopted by the field as the desired human outcome of DRR.

‘Wellbeing’ is a broad, multi-dimensional concept that must be understood through socio-cultural, contextual, and situational lenses (White, 2009). It can be argued that wellbeing is an outcome of access to resources from a number of domains (e.g., economic and material, cultural, social ecology, emotional and cognitive, etc.) that are utilized by individuals — or families and communities — when responding to life circumstances, including the adversities of disaster (Galappatti, 2003; Psychosocial Working Group, 2003). Given that disasters and crisis events can destroy or deplete the resources that help a person (or group) to maintain their wellbeing, we would point to the relevance of DRR for sustaining wellbeing in the following ways: i) DRR promotion and prevention activities in advance of a crisis event may bolster and protect resources that are key to wellbeing, and ii) DRR response and recovery initiatives may provide (or revive) resources that help persons restore their overall wellbeing. For example, in the context of schools, Child-Centred DRR activities at the different stages of the DRR Disaster Cycle can help protect and promote well-being in the following ways:

Prevention and Mitigation of hazards avoids and/or reduces harm, thereby protecting resources vital to wellbeing from being destroyed or depleted. Participation of children in Prevention and Mitigation activities, or classroom-based activity on this topic may increase sense of safety (reducing fears), capacity (builds knowledge and skills to address future/other hazards), and self-efficacy (sense of confidence in individual and collective capacity to cope), which all bolster internal emotional and cognitive resources important for wellbeing.

Participation of children in preparedness activities such as risk assessment, planning, DRRM systems, early warning systems, and drills increases their understanding and capacity to respond to hazards, enhances their sense of control and competence, and strengthens social connections to others (e.g., peers, educators, administrators, community resource persons, etc.), which are important mediators of wellbeing. In addition, the increased capacity to respond to crisis events will hopefully reduce the impact of disasters or crises on children and their wellbeing.

Response & Recovery activities restore resources and supports that children require for wellbeing, such as resumption of access to education and improving quality and appropriateness of education (providing routine, resuming peer contact, contact with supportive adults, access to skills and knowledge that build capacity and enable healthy development). Reconstruction and rehabilitation of school buildings and environment addresses current and future hazards by removing threats or mitigating them.

The existing connections between DRR and wellbeing are largely implicit or poorly articulated within the humanitarian aid and DRR discourse. Including wellbeing as an outcome of DRR can complement the current emphasis on (mostly systems level) resilience outcomes — offering a means of conceptualizing the impact of DRR at the level of human experience and lives. We acknowledge that resilience and wellbeing are not entirely distinct concepts (indeed characteristics that engender resilience may also contribute to wellbeing). However, it is useful also to consider that the ‘pathway’ from DRR interventions to wellbeing may be both achieved via strengthening of broader systems capacity (for resilience), and more directly by targeting more immediate determinants of wellbeing.

Whilst this conceptualization seems to resonate well with approaches and concerns within the education sector, we do see broader relevance of incorporating ‘wellbeing’ as the desired human outcome for the field of DRR more widely.

Stephen Richardson and Ananda Galappatti have been working as consultants for Save the Children on a ‘Building Resilient Children and Schools’ project in the Philippines, which aims to support DRR efforts and enhance student and teacher wellbeing within schools affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan (locally referred to as Yolanda). Whilst the ideas in the blogpost above emerge from this work, they do not represent the official view of Save the Children.

    Stephen Richardson

    Written by

    A Creative working in the International Education Sphere

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