Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)

The impacts of global warming and climate change is said to be “the greatest injustice of our time”. The world’s poorest people have contributed least to its cause but they are the ones who suffer most from its devastating effects.

Poor and developing countries are the most that are at risk due to long term flawed natural resource management practices and policies, increased population density and settlements in fragile eco-systems, increased demand on environment and natural resources, poor governance and prevalence of corruption.

The acceleration of changing weather patterns due to global climate change aggravate further the underlying risk that many poor and developing countries are facing. Poverty incidence is higher in areas where natural disasters occur.  The poor are mostly located in the rural areas and are dependent on agriculture, fishery and livestock that are inherently climate sensitive.  Farmers and indigenous peoples in upland communities live in landslide prone areas and the poor in the urban areas live in hazardous areas like along riverbanks.

“Poor households and poor nations throughout much of the world face two disadvantages: the inability to generate income and the vulnerability to physical social and economic downturns. Drought, flood, conflict, inflation, disease and recession hit these groups and countries hardest. Furthermore, repeated exposure to these downturns reinforces the conditions of poverty.”[1]

Whatever progress we make from our poverty reduction and community development initiatives; these are shattered the day after a disaster.

These clearly states that disasters do not only worsen poverty in poor and developing countries but by the same token undermine past, current and future efforts to tackle poverty.

DRR, Literacy and Education

Over the past years, we saw the transformation of many disaster responses from emergency and relief response during or immediately after a disaster, towards a more comprehensive Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) approach.

Likewise, Community-based Disaster Risk Reduction Programs using participatory approaches are being conducted in many countries by government and non-government organizations.

Since the adoption by 186 UN member states of the Hyogo Framework for Action, promotion of DRR in education had been taken, specifically in the formal education sector. Policy guidelines, tools and methodologies had been developed to guide policy makers, implementers and practitioners in integrating DRR in education.  This includes not only integrating and mainstreaming disaster risk reduction in education but as well as developing guidelines in school building construction. The Philippines is one country where this initiative was pilot tested. Several materials related to this had been developed by the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) and other agencies and organizations.

A wealth of DRR education materials had also been developed – the Asia-Pacific Cultural Center for UNESCO (ACCU) Planet 4 module on disaster preparedness is one very good example.

Literacy and education is crucial to Disaster Risk Reduction. Reducing risks and enhancing people’s resilient capacities to deal with disasters requires them to understand how they could best protect themselves.

Literacy and education is a necessity in raising awareness on the nature and presence of natural hazards as well as the vulnerabilities and threats faced by the community. It plays a central role in building life skills that could make a difference in life threatening situations during disasters.


Since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, disaster reduction has been recognized as an integral component of sustainable development (Chapter 3 of Agenda 21) and the cross-sectoral nature of disaster risk reduction was again emphasized in 2002 during the World Summit on Sustainable Development. The linkage between disaster risk reduction education and sustainable development had been visible on other international agendas.[2]

Disaster Risk Reduction encompasses economic, political, cultural, social and environmental dimensions and that formal and non-formal education initiative under this theme is consistent with the frameworks of ESD in three important ways:[3]

  1. Education for disaster risk reduction is interdisciplinary. Therefore, important consideration is given to the impacts on, and relationship between, society, the environment, economy and culture.
  2. Education for disaster risk reduction promotes critical thinking and problem solving and other social and emotional life skills that are essential to the empowerment of stakeholder groups threatened or affected by disasters.
  3. Education for disaster risk reduction supports the Millennium Development Goals. Without considering Disaster Risk Reduction in development planning, all efforts including, decades of development initiatives could be destroyed in seconds.

ESD in a Climate Changed World

The nature of disasters in our climate changed world placed us to come into terms with our past and current behaviors, lifestyle practices and our views of society, the economy, the world, the environment and humanity  in general.

It bared the flaws of our past and current development models and paradigms that gave birth to our current environmental and climate predicament. It exposed who are vulnerable and who are accountable and revealed the cause and effect relationship between disaster and development – from a global to local perspective.

The risk posed by the threats of climate change to humanity is a strong urgent call for us to rethink the dominant views that influence the social, political, cultural, economic, and environmental dimensions of our lives.

No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it. We must learn to see the world anew.[4]

Our current challenges in the face climate changed induced disasters opens up an avenue to question the current dominant form of development and education that brought us these problems. It gave us the reality of our current context to reflect on our current education frameworks and a platform to create the kind of education that will save us.

[1] UNDP: Poverty, “Sustainable Development and Disaster Reduction”, World Conference on Disaster Reduction

[2] WCESD Concept Note: Learning to live with risk – DRR to encourage Education for Sustainable Development

[3] ibid

[4] Albert Einstein