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Neglected Disasters in a Neglected Educative Space:

Its Contribution to Global Learning Crisis

Department of Geography, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy
University of the Philippines - Diliman (Graduate Program) |

Disasters can cause terrible loss of properties, lives, and even disrupt psychological well-being of
victims. However, the impact of these catastrophic events is very much evident on the most
vulnerable sectors of society, in institutions where safety is at utmost priority. During the 2005
Pakistan earthquake, more than 17,000 students were killed and 10,000 schools were collapsed.
Innumerable cases of structures that are poorly constructed have entailed casualties (ADPC, 2008).
In the Philippines alone, schools have been transformed into evacuation spaces whenever there are
cases of floods brought about by heavy rainfall. These actions entailed severe consequences for
education – and the subsequent socio-economic impacts it may have on communities affected by

A survey of various literatures and studies on the impacts of disasters to the education sector offers
a range of discourse on the assemblage of issues and concerns that impede educational goals,
which is often neglected in disaster risk reduction (DRR) planning and policy-making. Gaps in the
bodies of work from different scholars provide space for alternative discussions on empowering
schools in terms of capacity building to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to large-scale and small-
scale disasters.

Keywords: neglected disasters, educative spaces, global learning crisis

During the post-Fukushima-Daichi nuclear accident conference on disaster risk in May
2011, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proclaimed that no nations are immune from
various disasters. While disasters are not actually new to mankind, the extent of its magnitude
continues to be overwhelming as dictated by statistics. The Philippines is no exception. From 1900-
1998, it ranked first for having the greatest number of natural hazards occurrence in the world
based on the data from a research group based in Brussels, Belgium (Balana, 1999). In 2006, it
placed fourth along with China, India, and Iran on being a disaster-prone country. Further, at least
five (5) percent of the total Philippine population died from natural and man-made calamities
between 1992-2001, according to Center for People Empowerment in Governance (as cited in PDI
: 2006). Years later, it rose to being the third most prone to disasters (World Disaster Report, 2012),
owing to the country’s geographical make-up of being an archipelago surrounded by waters. The
report further cited that this factor adds to the increased vulnerability of the country to natural

Recognizing these vulnerabilities, people have learned to live and deal with calamities as
an evidence of modern culture and civilizations. Through their vicarious experiences and
Neglected Disasters in a Neglected Educative Space 2

collaborative effort, people found ways to deal, mitigate, and cope with the onslaught of disasters.
Stakeholders from different sectors of society have a big role to play on disaster risk reduction
efforts, especially schools. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
(UNISDR, 2007) invested efforts on education to be a primary key to build the culture of resilience
among the children, whom are perceived to be one of the most vulnerable and marginalized
members of society when it comes to disasters. Their increased vulnerabilities contribute to what
we call global learning crisis. UNESCO, an international educational arm, placed an emphasis that
global learning crisis does not only inquire on the “accessibility” to education, but also it recognized
that there is an alarming crisis in “quality learning.” Here, UNESCO defined quality of learning as

“processes through which people acquire the breadth and depth

of knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to fully engage in
their communities, express their ideas and talents and contribute
positively to their societies.” (UNESCO, 2013 : p. 2)

Accounts of Saturay (2009), Montalvan (2011), Alcazaren (2011), Contreras, Tandoc, and del Prado
(2006), Araneta (2006), and Felipe (2006) seemed to agree with the growing social and geographic
phenomenon that the marginalized people are worst hit by disasters caused by Sendong in
Cagayan de Oro, landslide in General Nakar, Quezon, “Wowowee” Stampede, and frequent fires
in depressed areas in various occasions. These onslaughts, whether direct or indirect, have an
adverse effect on the growing crisis in quality of learning in an educative space. It is evident on the
reported damages in school facilities, learning materials, and other educational-related utilities
that contribute to the teaching-learning process. Schools are often utilized as evacuation centers
for displaced families and individuals, according to the Department of Social Welfare and
Development (DSWD, 2013). These events have taken toll on the time devoted on the learning
engagements of students in schools, and worse, this could force students to dramatically drop out.
These events are often neglected in many discourses on disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts, as
these events only appear to be protracting and receive less attention by agencies and stakeholders.

This paper would explore current debates on the short-term and long-term impacts of
small-scale disasters in the education sector. A survey of various literatures on this topic offers a
range of discourses on the assemblage of issues that continue to impede educational goals, which
is often neglected in disaster risk reduction (DRR) planning and policy-making. Gaps in the bodies
of work from different scholars provide space for alternative discussions on empowering schools
in terms of capacity building to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to large-scale and small-scale

Neglected Disasters: Nature and Discourses

Tracing back history, there were noted changes when it comes to the discourses on
disasters and how it relates with development. Gaillard and Wisner (2009) outlined these changes
as follows (see on the next page):
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• Disaster discourse as "acts of God"

• Associated with hazards
• Infrastructure projects as a way to reduce risk to hazards
1950s to 1960s

• Disasters are seen in a functionalist approach, seen as a "dysfunction" of

• Increased disaster risk is attributed to social, political and economic structures
that perpetuate inequality
1980s to 1990s • Extreme natural events exacerbate the worsening situation of the marginalized
groups, not as drivers

• Discourses on disasters have included climate change, poverty reduction, and

risk reduction dialogues
• Cost and benefits of the dialogues are unevenly shared within and among
Early Decades of nations of the world, recognizing differentiations by class, gender, ethnicity,
regions, etc.
the 21st Century

Figure 1: Changes in Discourses on Disaster Studies and Development (Gaillard and Wisner, 2009)

Looking into the changes into the discourse that disaster studies has undergone, it is very
much evident that it has widened in scope and became more complex and comprehensive. In
addition, disaster studies have become more “inclusive” by including climate change adaptation,
risk reduction, and poverty reduction into the complex overlay of discourses aimed at
development. On the downside of it, Gaillard and Wisner (2009) pointed out that while these
dialogues have become “comprehensive” and “inclusive”, there has a tendency that it might
“neglect” other forms of threat, thus came what they coined as “neglected disasters.”

Neglected disasters or some literatures (IRIN, 2013; IFRC World Disasters Report, 2006;
Joye, 2010) have called it as “small-scale disasters” or “low-profile disasters” are largely
unrecognized as it was not highlighted or even prioritized in terms of reporting (media coverage)
and policy-making. On that point, it has also not met the requirements of the global consensus’
meaning of disasters, which was defined by the UNISDR (2014) as the events that are beyond the
control of the affected peoples and groups, given the resources at their command. According to
IRIN (2013), politics prevail on when the government could identify a certain event “disastrous” or
not. When it did not declare such act as an “emergency”, then the event is considered to be a
“small disaster.” It is neglected.
Neglected Disasters in a Neglected Educative Space 4

These “neglected” events pose a great challenge on its reportage and priorities on relief
and aid. Magnitude plays a big role in making the disasters’ presence felt in affected areas. Usually,
these events of great epic proportions overshadow chronic, yet more deadly neglected crises
through very extensive media coverage (IFRC World Disasters Report, 2006; IRIN, 2013; Gaillard &
Wisner, 2009), which is why there is a great disparity when it comes to the distribution of aid.
Taking the case of the Flemish media as an example, 70.8% of all disasters occurred from 1986-
2006 are neglected by the newspapers (Joye, 2010). Joye further argued that news coverage is also
determined by proximity. Western or high-income countries receive great exposure from media
as compared to that of the areas in the “global south,” unless westerners who inhabit in these
areas were affected by these catastrophic events. There is a lack of focus on daily occurrences such
as collapse of fisheries and its huge impact on the livelihood (especially) in the coastal communities
and individual’s life chances.

Small-scale or neglected disasters were not subjected on much bigger lens for many
reasons (Gaillard and Wisner, 2009; IRIN, 2013; IFRC, 2006). It could be political, in a sense that
these events underscore relevance to key stakeholders involved in disaster risk reduction efforts.
Chronic crises are perceived to be the product of poor governance and non-inclusive political
policies that neglect the participation of the marginalized groups. Local knowledge and capacities
could be a great deal of potential if tapped to the fullest by key policy makers. Some would think
that these events are being misunderstood or encounter a difficulty in “categorizing” these kinds
of crises. Or, it is masked along with the occurrence of large-scale disasters that add up to the
worsening situation in the affected communities.

The foregoing literatures and studies focused on the discourses on disaster studies and
the sudden emergence of “neglected” disasters. Magnitude levels of disasters play a key role in
shaping the views about “neglected” or “low-profile” disasters as attention from media, donors,
and other institutions governing disaster risk reduction is drawn based on how “big” the impact of
these events would cause to affected areas in terms of properties, casualties, and even
psychological well-being. As a result, the impacts of “neglected” disasters remain to be
undocumented and unmeasured. This poses now a challenge to call for putting focus on
undocumented impacts of everyday disasters, so as to include these in planning future DRR policies
and projects.

Neglected Disasters: Who and What are affected?

Knowing the nature and discourses on neglected disasters, literatures now are delving
upon the exploration on whom and what are affected by these chronic crises. Based on the data
from the United Nations (UN) and World Bank (WB), natural hazards account for the 3.3 million
people who died from 1970 to late-2000s. That is roughly an average of 82,500 people per year
(IRIN, 2013). Different sectors of society are directly hit by these geographic events. The World
Disasters Report released by International Federation of Red Cross (2006), as well as the studies
of Rivera and Miller (2007) and UNISDR (2013) detailed how “neglected crises” caused major
disruptions in the lives of people in different countries at the global scale. The table below shows
various cases of “neglected crises” and its differentiated effects on the people in the areas
concerned (See table on the next page)*:
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Country Situation/Crisis Experiences and Impacts

Malawi Hunger - Roughly five million people are in dire need of
food aid
- Insufficient rains and lack of access to food,
seeds, and fertilizers were the problems faced by
the Malawi people
- Children are engaged in prostitution or other
sexual engagements.
Guatemala Vulnerability to disasters - Indigenous peoples’ vulnerability further
(extreme weather) exacerbated by Hurricane Stan
- People are living in dire poverty due to political
instability, social exclusion, prevalent disregard
to law and order, discrimination
Nepal Unsafe motherhood, - More than 500,000 mothers in the world die due
miscarriages and deaths to unsafe delivery of their babies (unsafe
motherhood), while roughly 5,000 to 6,000 were
reported cases of death among mothers and
30,000 babies die per year in Nepal.
- Unsafe motherhood is brought about by
inadequacy in medical facilities and lack of
access in healthcare
- Aside from these factors, an assemblage of
conflicts, poor transport systems, shortage of
medical staff, discrimination against women, and
lack of awareness contributes to this crisis
Europe-Africa Refugees, boat-migrants - People from different African countries migrate to
Europe with hopes of employment opportunities
- Hopelessness, failed development, poverty, and
despair were the problems faced by these
people at home
The Americas Migration of African- - Great migration during the post-Civil war era
Americans altered the experiences of African Americans
who are greatly affected by environmental
- Federal government’s neglect on addressing the
needs of African Americans led them to migrate
to other areas, victimized by discrimination
Gender disparities - Gender-based issues during and after disasters
have left women with less aid, limited
opportunities for work and participation in crafting
DRR policies
- Victims of violence, health issues, and death
during disasters
Humanitarian Aid - Raised questions on the equitability of aid among
Distribution sectors and priorities
- Food is the utmost priority of aid, but less than
40% of the aid were only dedicated to economic
recovery, shelter, water and sanitation, and other
Neglected Disasters in a Neglected Educative Space 6

long-term measures to uplift quality of life of

those who are affected by disasters
Persons with Disability - PWDs are rarely consulted on their needs,
(PWDs) response to especially during disasters
disasters - 20% of them can evacuate without any difficulty,
while 6% of them cannot.
- PWDs were left behind in DRR planning which
further exacerbate their dire situation, thus end
up on being too dependent on their families,
friends, and neighbors, especially during times of
*Cases summarized from the World Disasters Report (IFRC, 2006), Miller and Rivera (2007), and UNISDR (2013)
** (Lifted from the statement of Margaret Wahström, UNISDR head)

Examining the events that occurred as espoused in different literatures and studies carried by IFRC
(2006), Miller and Rivera (2007), and UNISDR (2013), it indicates that the cumulative impact of
these “neglected” crises is often at par or greater than the losses related to large-scale disasters.
On top of that, the trend befalls on the often-perceived marginalized groups in society --
indigenous people, women, children, persons with disabilities, and other minorities. It would be
better to put the lens on recording and documenting these impacts of these “small-scale” or “low-
profile” events to ensure mainstreaming of DRR policies and plans. For the purpose of this study,
it would largely focus on children’s vulnerabilities since the paper would like to delve on the
impacts of these events on the neglected educative space and how it contributes to global learning

Disasters and the Education Sector: How does one contribute to the Crisis?
It is very evident that disasters have an adverse effect on the different segments and
groups in society as evidenced in the literatures and studies reviewed in the previous sections. The
Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) (as cited in Petal, 2008) have found
out that various natural hazards such as flood, earthquakes, volcanic eruption and tsunami make
up about 400 national disasters that induces an average of 74,000 deaths and leaving more than
230 million people affected in a year. Although these catastrophic events of great magnitude have
caused much disruption in the lives of the people, the so-called “small-scale” or “low-profile”
disasters account for the largest scope as the figures have doubled. Petal (2008) underscored that
between 1980 and 2000, three-quarters of the world’s population were affected by these
“neglected crises.” It is also saddening to note that these events have greatly affect children -- they
were displaced from schools and worse, they resort to dropping out.

While children’s rights to quality education (Article 28) and life (Article 6) are embedded
in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990), there is no doubt that these geographic
events have a great impact in the education of the students (ADPC, 2008; Brown & Dodman, 2014;
Chang, et. al., 2013; King, 2002; Mudavanhu, 2014; and Peek, n.d.). Damaged school facilities and
infrastructures, the increasing number of absenteeism and decreasing time for instruction, and
the transformation of school buildings into evacuation centers/emergency shelters are some of
the common issues faced by the education sector, which contributes to the learning crisis in the
global scale. Aside from that, the emergence of assemblages of issues on water and sanitation,
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food, physical and social security, as well as health are further exacerbated by these “neglected
crises” that also impact on children’s education.

Children’s experiences and worldviews during disasters are also neglected by scientists,
the members of the academe, and policy makers who are involved in disaster risk reduction
planning. In the case of Cambodia’s flood episodes from 2000 to 2002, there seems a lack of
understanding on the students’ risks with an emphasis on technical capacities imposed on
Cambodian schools (ADPC, 2008). Aside from that, based on the report of Brown and Dodman
(2014), street and slum children remain at the margins of society as they possess no legal identity
and marginalized when it comes to access to basic services that could possibly help empower them
to reduce their risk. Another issue that emerged in the study is the concern regarding aid agencies.
These agencies have a tendency to neglect the differentiated risk of these children towards
disasters, treating them like adults. Dodman (2014) further underscored that at their stage of
physical and psychological development, there is a need to look into the way disasters have altered
children’s lives and perspectives. These exposures to greater risks in these adverse situations have
enabled them to further understand how violence, neglect, and exploitation contend with their
daily living.

A careful examination of the foregoing literatures and studies have shown the arising
need for further understanding on how disasters (as a whole) poses a great threat to the education
sector. While some of the literatures (ADPC, 2008; Chang, et. al., 2013; King, 2002; Mudavanhu,
2014; Peek, n.d.) are concentrated on flooding, there is a small amount of attention on the
lingering impacts of other hazards, as well as the “neglected”, “low-profile”, or “small-scale”
disasters on the education sector. Considering these issues at hand, this study would address how
other disasters, particularly the ones with a small magnitude, are emerging in a “neglected”
educative space and its contribution to the global learning crisis.

The Global Learning Crisis: Impetus for the Call for DRR in Schools?
The so-called “neglected” or “low-profile” disasters have posed a great threat to different
sectors of society based on the literatures dissected on the foregoing. While it presented cases on
how these events impede the educational goals stipulated in various laws and policies from
different governments and other agencies, it is interesting to note how these assemblages of
events also gave rise to what they call as “global learning crisis.” Global learning crisis, according
to UNESCO (2013), looks beyond questioning the accessibility towards quality education. Here, it
delves on the hows and whys of dramatic decrease on the quality of learning. While the increasing
number of enrolees in schools is a good indication of accessibility, UNESCO (2013) also expressed
concern on “what is learnt and how it is learnt” (p. 2) as a way to measure quality of learning. To

“The crisis in quality learning is evident. Despite increased enrolments, an

estimated 250 million children cannot read, write or count well, whether
they have been to school or not. Across the world, 200 million young
people leave school without the skills they need to thrive plus an
estimated 775 million adults – 64 percent of whom are women – still lack
the most basic reading and writing skills.” (UNESCO, 2013 : p. 2)
Neglected Disasters in a Neglected Educative Space 8

Children are the perceived to be one of the most vulnerable sectors of society, based on the
literatures (ADPC, 2008; Brown & Dodman, 2014; Chang, et. al., 2013; IFRC, 2006; IRIN, 2013; King,
2002; Miller and Rivera, 2007; Mudavanhu, 2014; Peek, n.d.; UNISDR, 2013) examined previously.
They are also victimized by the on-going violence and conflicts that put them into an educational
disadvantage. As a result of these, the worsening global learning crisis has costed the governments
in the world of an estimated $ 129 billion per annum (UNESCO, 2014). Irina Bokova, the Director-
General of UNESCO, said that the crisis has incurred a huge cost in terms of quality (Al Jazeera,
2014) which is why there is an arising need on prioritizing the issue. This would impede the
reaching of the 2015 development goals for education (Ward, 2014).

The realities of globalization, coupled with the problems along with it, have demanded
that there should be paradigm shifts to be done to keep up with the rapid changes in economic,
political, social, and environmental changes - especially with the dawn of climate change dialogues
in place. Priorities have been set to resolve the crisis through improving quality of learning.
UNESCO (2013, 2014) underscored that peace and prosperity, democratic stability, culture of
resilience, good civic behaviour and citizenship, and increased levels of employment are the fruits
of improving the quality of learning. This can only be done by developing skills in critical thinking
and increasing capacities of children towards lifelong learning. The latter could be an agenda for
increasing the participation of children from different walks of life in terms of DRR planning, along
with different key stakeholders. Iyengar (2013) and DepEd (2015) called for community-based
learning and community partnership as good strategies to resolve the worsening learning crisis in
the global scale. Discourses on disaster risk reduction, as espoused in the previous literatures
examined earlier in this paper, have also geared towards a very inclusive way to mitigate
effects/impacts of these catastrophic events. DepEd Assistant Secretary Reynaldo Laguda
recognized the need to complement disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation
dialogues in the assurance of building back the lives of students, parents, teachers, and educational
leaders and staff (as cited in DepEd, 2015). NDRRMC (n.d.) is committed to build a culture of
resilience and school safety by mainstreaming disaster risk reduction in schools, particularly in the
existing curriculum, as well as other educational endeavors.

While previous studies have emphasized on disasters and its immediate short and long-
term impacts on the education sector, there is a limited data on how these geographic events
exacerbate a child’s quality of learning, defined as the ability of a child to utilize his/her skills to
engage in his/ her community through expression of ideas and talents to transform society. Aside
from that, even there is a presence of integrating DRR in schools (Wisner, 2006; UNISDR, 2007;
UNICEF, 2011; Dep-Ed, 2015; NDRRMC, n.d.; Campbell & Yates, 2006), there is a need to tap local
capacities of different key players in education, as well as their everyday practices in connection
to DRR - which is being overlooked at times.


Al Jazeera. (2014). Over a third of children can't read, finds global ‘learning crisis’ study. Retrieved
from Al Jazeera:

Alcazaren, P. (2011, October 22). Observing disasters, finding salvation. Philippine Star.
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Araneta, S. (2006, February 5). Wowowee Stampede: 73 Killed. 59 Injured. Philippine Star.

Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC). (2008). Impact of Disasters on the Education Sector
in Cambodia. Cambodia: Economic Institute of Cambodia.

Balana, C. D. (1999, August 1). RP No. 1 in Natural Disasters in 98 Years. Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Brown, D., & Dodman, D. (2014). Understanding Children's Risk and Agency in Urban Areas and
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Education in Sindh (Case Study of 2010 Flood). International Journal of Advanced
Research, 329-344.

Contreras, V., Tandoc, E., & Prado, L. d. (2006, February 5). 74 Dreams Crushed: Ultra Tragedy
Reveals Life is Hard, Real State of Economy. Philippine Star.

Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). (2013). List of Evacuation Centers.
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Disaster Risk Studies, 151-158.

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IFRC. (2012). World Disasters Report 2012: Focus on Forced Migration and Displacement. Geneva,
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Societies (IFRC).
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Joye, S. (2010). News Media and the (de) construction of Risk: How Flemish Newspapers select
and cover International Disasters. Catalan Journal of Communication and Cultural
Studies, 253-266.

King, D. (2002). You're on Your Own: Community Vulnerability and the Need for Awareness and
Education for Predictable Natural Disasters. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis
Management, 223-228.

Miller, D. M., & Rivera, J. D. (2007). Continually Neglecte: Situating Natural Disasters in the
African American Experiences. Journal of Black Studies, 502-522.

Montalvan, A. J. (2011, December 24). We has been warned of Cagayan River's Fury. Philippine
Daily Inquirer.

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Philippines. Manila: National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council

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Neglected Disasters in a Neglected Educative Space 12


Timothy James L. Cipriano is a senior high school faculty in Saint Pedro Poveda College where he
teaches geography, environment, politics, research, disasters, culture and society. Mr. Cipriano
graduated Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education, major in Social Science at
the Philippine Normal University. At present, he is a graduate student in the Department of
Geography, University of the Philippines Diliman taking up Master of Science in Geography.

In 2014, he received the prestigious Elsevier Best Research Award for his research on evacuation
and disasters with Dr. Enrico B. Garcia during the 12th Southeast Asian Geography Association
(SEAGA) International Conference in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Also, as a graduate student in UP
Diliman, he is a University Scholar and a recipient of the UP Presidential Scholarship.

His research interests include geography of hazards and disasters, urban studies, right to the city
and urban politics, participatory disaster risk reduction (DRR), and environmental geography.