Climate change and Education in Emergencies – twin challenges we face today

Youth activist Dilmani Wickramsinghe, from Sri Lanka, explains why climate change and education in emergencies are intrinsically linked.

Dilmani Wickramsinghe

My name is Dilmani Wickramsinghe and I am a 15 year old youth advocate from Sri Lanka.

Climate change is a major problem in the present society. It is affecting the world faster than we could have ever imagined. Many people are affected by this climate crisis, and it is high time we take action.

Though the least priority is given to children’s education in certain parts of the world, the right to a basic education is a basic, fundamental right. The livelihoods of children in rural areas are among the most impacted by the adverse effects of climate change, and hence we must take action to ensure the protection of children’s rights.

In the year 2016, my neighbourhood in a Colombo suburb was affected by heavy rains and flooding. Even in Colombo, I am a victim of climate change. The water levels took a few days to go down, and I had to miss school. I felt the impact. Some of my school friends were also in a similar situation where they couldn’t go to school, because their areas were flooded too.

At the time, I was only 10 years old, but I understood that something was wrong. Looking back, this was what sparked my interest in climate change action. There would have been many measures the government could take to ensure that children’s education is not impacted. One of the main things they can do, is that they can education us about climate change – include it in the curriculum. We can do simple actions, such as planting trees, and conducting quizzes and projects on climate change, working through existing environmental groups.

Children must also be encouraged and supported to speak up about climate change in Sri Lanka. The government should have a plan, and process, to educate children, and inform, and identify the relevant authorities to take the required measures.

In the year 2020, I was first introduced to Save the Children through a workshop on climate change. Throughout the period, I was given the option to engage in various conversations, conferences and attend various online workshops, through which I enhanced my knowledge about climate change and its impacts. I was also given the opportunity to engage in various conversations with youth and other people from different countries, as motivated by their actions and fights to save the world as youth climate activists.

In rural areas, disasters such as droughts, floods and landslides are frequent. From these disasters, the most affected are the children. Their right to education can be destroyed. And not only are they unable to attend school, but they can be destabilized, unable to concentrate on their studies, or their mental well-being. There is also the possibility of their homes and schools being destroyed, damage to property and the inability to fulfill their basic needs. These can be listed among the basic impacts of climate change on rural areas.

During the past month (April 2022), we have faced regular power cuts which last for hours. This highlights Sri Lanka’s dependence on fossil fuels. We heavily depend on fossil fuels, from our cars to our electricity. Although there are some hydro, solar and wind-powered stations, the use of these renewable sources is comparatively lower than the usage of fossil fuels. Due to this power crisis people, irrespective of age or social class, are suffering. Students find it extremely hard to concentrate on studies, both during school hours and at home. The right to education, which is one of the basic rights of a child, has been disrupted to a very large extent due to these power cuts. In the flood situation, students’ board of transportation was also disrupted, another reason they were unable to attend school. Therefore, the only solution left was online learning. But with these power cuts, online learning was also made impossible. Therefore, it is high time to take the necessary actions to move onto environmentally friendly, renewable energy sources. The education system needs to educate all the children on the effects of climate change, and of depending of fossil fuels, as well as to protect and love the environment.

Time is running out, climate change is already here. But the question is, ‘Is Sri Lanka finally ready to act? Or, must the children grow up with no future? We must respect mother nature, and help her survive,

The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to earth. – Chief Seattle