2008 Conference: Rebuilding Sustainable Communities for Children and their Families after Disasters
In the current report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF, 2007), the conditions of children world-wide portrayed a picture of concern that requires an immediate intervention. According to the report, an estimated 20 million children have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict and human rights violations. Many of them either are living as refugees in neighboring countries or are officially classified as internally displaced population. The UNICEF report shows that 2 million children have died as a direct result of armed conflict over the past decade, and at least 6 million have been permanently disabled or seriously injured. More than 1 million have been orphaned or separated from their families.
Records show that between 8,000 and 10,000 children are killed or maimed by landmines every year, and an estimated 300,000 child soldiers — boys and girls under the age of 18 — are involved in more than 30 conflicts worldwide. Furthermore, the UNICEF report indicates that during the unprecedented 1994 genocide in Rwanda, many teenage girls of the age of 12 and above that survived the genocide have been raped. Similarly, during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, over 20,000 females were reported to have been sexually assaulted. The overall effect of conflicts, like the ones in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, is the break up of the families, and women in general are the ones who carry the additional economic and emotional burdens of the surviving communities. The UNICEF report concludes that children, who are very vulnerable to the aftermath of conflicts, require special care and attention. Unfortunately, these children are often forgotten and left to take care of themselves until the next disaster (UNICEF, The state of the world’s children, 2007).
Globally, millions more have suffered death, disease, and dislocation as a result of such natural disasters as earthquakes, droughts, and floods. Even in apparently stable environments—such as Boston, the site of this conference, where the murder rate is at an 11-year high—epidemic violence endlessly harms lives and communities. And even when emergency relief is available, permanent human damage remains. Here again, all too often, families fall apart, women are assaulted and degraded, and children are left to take care of themselves.
This conference focused on four main objectives:
- The role of gender equality in alleviating poverty and assisting children, their families and their communities after disasters
- The status of children and women in various communities after disasters and the continuing need for superior research and appropriate data
- The roles of governments, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations
- The promotion of human dignity in the creation of sustainable environments that empower families in the aftermath of disasters
The conference sought to contribute to, and recommend, future policy formulation and implementation processes by local, regional and national governments as well as multilateral agencies and grass-roots organizations. The goal of these efforts was to bring specialists from various disciplines (health, education, community planning, etc.) to explore and make recommendations on how to reconstruct sustainable communities that will be safe for children and their families after disasters.