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Putting children at the heart of the World Humanitarian Summit: Laal Bibi’s story

© Youth Development Organisation

The first World Humanitarian Summit, which will take place in Istanbul, Turkey, in May, will bring together governments, humanitarian organisations and people affected by humanitarian crises to propose solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. Together with partners, Plan International stresses the importance of consulting children, especially adolescent girls who face a particular risk of exclusion, at all stages of disaster preparedness and response in a report which draws from consultations conducted with over 6 000 children.

Ensuring that girls’ voices – like Laal Bibi’s – are heard in these discussions is a key priority for Plan International. Laal Bibi, 16, lives with her family in an under-developed district of the Punjab province in Pakistan which was heavily impacted by floods in 2015. Following that dramatic event, she now takes part in a disaster risk reduction youth group organised by Plan International, where she and her friends learn how to better prepare for disasters. Here is her story.

Laal Bibi, participant in Plan International’s disaster preparedness project @PlanGlobal

It was July last year, and there was talk of a possible flood affecting our village – like it had happened the year before and one before that. There was an air of fear and uncertainty in the village. One sunny day, around 11:00 in the morning, rumors began to circulate that floodwaters would hit our village within an hour.

I was cooking food for my family at the time, and as soon as I heard about the impending disaster, I immediately stopped and ran towards my room. I helped my mother collect food and our valuables. I also grabbed clothes and items, things we would need if we were to live in a camp.

I cried the entire time.

We had to walk, carrying whatever possessions and supplies we could carry. When we reached the nearby town, exhausted from the journey, a landlord let us camp on his land. We put up our tents and with nowhere to go, we stayed there for fifteen days. All this time I felt sick and upset.

"Although I had survived the flood, I was still frightened."

In the makeshift camp, I got up early in the morning and went to the fields with other girls to collect fodder for our livestock. I also collected bramble and tinder to fuel the fire and helped my mother cook the food. The other girls and I were also tasked with taking care of the disabled and the sick.

The biggest issue for me and other girls was the lack of privacy. We had to wake up early every morning, around 5:00 am, and then walk a considerable distance in a group to a spot where we could defecate in the open.

We had no source of income. Women had to sell their jewelry in order to purchase food and medicine for their children. We even had to sell our animals to survive.

Also, during the floods, there was nowhere to go for children to continue their education.

After fifteen long days I returned to my village with my family. Although floods come every year, the devastation that awaited us was still shocking. The flood had destroyed our entire village; houses were damaged and the crops were ruined. There was trash all around and the smell of the rotting garbage was unbearable. I helped my family to clean up our house the best I could. We had to pitch tents on our property because our house was unlivable due to the extent of the damage.

After a few days of living in tents, we began rebuilding our house with mud and loose rocks. I started off by collecting slick mud in a big pot. We completed the construction of the mud house in twenty-five days.

I could not sleep at night because of mosquitos. The only way to keep them away was burning dry buffalo dung. After the flood there were also many snakes and scorpions in our village. We had to kill some every day. Many people fell sick because of insect bights and unsanitary living conditions. I also caught diarrhea. My mother boiled water and put some sugar and salt in it, which I drank for a while to recover.

After the disaster, I decided to join one of the youth groups focused on disaster risk reduction activities run by Plan International. The youth group formed in my village prepares us better to respond to disasters like floods.

"I want to learn how to help my community when the next floods hit our village."

In the group, we learn to stay safe in flooded areas and to use safety equipment. There are also trainings on how to prevent and deal with floods and activities on hazard and vulnerability assessment like making risk maps, and setting up an evacuation route.

Most importantly, thanks to the group I have learned about my right to participate: to participate in disaster preparedness and response, to participate in the solution.

Since I joined the group, I am less frightened, and more confident that I’ll know what to do next time.