NEW YORK, USA, 11 December 2009 – Architect Carlos Vasquez designs child-friendly schools for UNICEF. This past week, he had the opportunity to give presentations about his schools, which are built to withstand disasters caused by climate change, at the Children’s Climate Forum in Copenhagen.
In one of Mr. Vasquez’s presentations, he surveyed children about whether they had ever personally experienced a climate-related disaster. He found that nearly 100 per cent of the children from western industrialized countries had not experienced one firsthand; but that nearly all of the children from developing countries had.
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“That’s pretty tangible evidence of the social justice issue of climate change, that rich countries emit the most carbon dioxide, yet poor countries are the ones that suffer the most,” he said.
Creating safe environments
Mr. Vasquez said that some of the countries that are more vulnerable to climate change are already working to make schools more resilient. But he added that these countries also need help from those in the developing world to create alternative technologies and designs for school environments that will be better able to withstand natural disasters.
“That’s why we we’re there, to show them how – with the same amount of money or materials – you can actually be more effective at mitigating climate change and disasters and creating environments that are safer for children,” he said.
One of Mr. Vasquez’s goals is to educate stakeholders on the need to design schools with climate change in mind.
“A school that is not designed properly – in a flood or an earthquake zone – if you don’t do your due diligence, you’re putting your children at risk and we cannot afford to do that,” he said.
Using the right materials
In order to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of having universal access to education for all children, many thousands of schools remain to be built. Mr. Vasquez believes that those who design these schools have a responsibility to make sure they do not work against another Millennium Development Goal, which is protecting the environment.
“If we’re going to build 350,000 schools out of wood, we’re not protecting the environment because we’re increasing deforestation,” he explained.
This would be especially true in regions like West Africa, where deforestation levels are already high.
To that end, Mr. Vasquez and his colleagues are looking into new technologies of construction that use compressed earth blocks as a building material. Such buildings would have a very low carbon footprint, and not contribute to deforestation.
“We have to be very careful of how we make our next moves, because we want schools to address the issue of the environment and climate change,” he said.