Asia is home to more than half of the world’s young people. India is expected to have 34.33% share of youth in total population by 2020 (Central Statistics Office, GoI). There is immense untapped potential in youth to shape the future of the world as a safer place to live in. The National Youth Policy (2014) defines youth as persons in the age group of 15-29 years. The population in this age group is full of ideas, energy and passion to bring about change, by challenging stereotypes, embracing good practices and thinking out of the box. Through improved access to education, and better understanding of risks and opportunities, youth in India can help the country make unprecedented leaps forward by alleviating poverty and injustice, reducing disaster risks, providing solutions for adapting to climate change and contributing to the achievement of development goals.

Disasters are known to push nations back by decades on the development timeline. The Indian sub-continent with its vulnerability to multiple complex disasters is at a high risk of losing all its development gains to mega disasters. Youth can play a key role in mitigating risks as well as in humanitarian response and recovery. Historically, all mega disasters have witnessed an outpour of young volunteers offering assistance for response and relief. This is however an “impromptu engagement” with humanitarian sector and involves challenges due to lack of skills and inadequate knowledge of standards and procedures. There is a need for planned and organised engagement with youth in order to build their capacities for contributing to all the phases of disaster management.

The “Compact for young people in humanitarian action” launched at the World Humanitarian Summit (2016) is a commitment by humanitarian agencies across the world that humanitarian systems will promote participation of youth in humanitarian action and address their priorities. This includes five key actions for accountability for young people in humanitarian action. Action 1 emphasises age and gender responsive programmes that contribute to protection, health and development. Action 2 proposes engagement and partnership of youth in all phases of humanitarian action. Action 3 focuses on strengthening capacity and capability of youth to be effective humanitarian actors in prevention, preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery. Action 4 aims to increase resources to address needs of youth and adolescents affected by disasters, and Action 5 emphasizes sex and age disaggregated data.

Humanitarian sector not only provides carrier prospects to youth but also an opportunity to save lives, alleviate suffering, prevent catastrophes, enhance resilience and create a safer world. Young engineers, geologists, scientists, social workers, managers, doctors and students across numerous disciplines have huge potential to co-create knowledge and innovate solutions for reducing disaster risks and mitigating disasters. Humanitarian workers are leaders, often taking tough decisions especially when confronted with the enormity of the population versus limited resources in hand, prioritizing the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalised (e.g. pregnant women, lactating mothers, women and girls from traditionally marginalised Dalit and Adivasi communities, persons with disability and elderly) over other affected population.   Humanitarian aid workers are known to always have their bags packed, ready to move to areas hit by calamity. They are surrounded by images of devastation and sounds of people crying at losses -economic, physical and emotional. This involves high levels of stress and many sleepless nights, but the satisfaction of saving lives and reducing human suffering far outweighs the hard work and stress.

Eilia Jafar