Families with children were particularly vulnerable to the earthquake that struck the Amatrice area in central Italy in the early hours of Wednesday 24th August as people were sleeping. Rescue and response to this major disaster are the primary focus, but the country’s civil protection authorities will soon be considering the recovery process and future preparedness measures. This is an area of the country already hit by severe economic recession and population pressures.
The terrible events currently unfolding, where many of the reported casualties are children, highlight the importance of CUIDAR: Cultures of Disaster Resilience Among Children and Young People and its project partner Save the Children Italy (Onlus) which is undertaking work with municipal authorities in severely affected regions. Save the Children Italy’s Emergency Department has been working to promote a culture of disaster risk reduction nationally and locally and to guarantee the protection of children during the response to emergencies and disasters such as the current one. Onlus was heavily involved in projects providing psychological support for children in the aftermath of the Abruzzo region earthquake of 2009; organising child friendly spaces within the tent camps in the wake of the Emilia Romagna quake of 2012; and working on various prevention, preparedness and disaster risk reduction programmes. The development of consultative workshops to facilitate dialogues with children and young people on their perception of disaster risk and resilience is now central to the work of the CUIDAR project.
The current tragedy is also of great relevance to CUIDAR’s Portuguese partner. The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 is widely considered to be one of the worst in European history, resulting in the deaths of thousands of people, and the near-total destruction of Portugal’s capital and much of the surrounding area. According to scientists, Lisbon is long overdue for a seismic event on the same scale as the catastrophic one in 1755. Thus, earthquake preparedness is a high priority for civil protection authorities and programmes aimed at children reflect just that. For instance, a yearly exercise named “When the Earth shakes” (based on the US model “ShakeOut”) takes place every November, promoted by the National Civil Protection Authority in Portugal. Schools, companies, NGO, individual citizens are invited to take protective measures against earthquakes at exactly the same time. The 2015 exercise had thousands of registered participants, most of them in schools. Also, Lisbon civil protection authority’s Tinoni House has a room devoted to teaching safeguarding measures to children in case of earthquake.