Poor disaster preparedness resulted in the preventable deaths of around 17,000 children in the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. This information was shared in Islamabad on Wednesday at a seminar on disaster preparedness for schools.
Focus Pakistan Programme Coordinator Zulfiqar Ali, who presented the data, said lack of awareness, motivation, training and weak building structures were the primary factors behind the vulnerability of educational institutions in recent disasters.
The earthquake, which measured 7.6 on the Richter scale, killed an estimated 79,000 people in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Other speakers at the seminar agreed that schools in Pakistan should be better prepared to deal with natural disasters. Teachers and students have not been trained on evacuation drills and how to conduct themselves during a disaster. Moreover, most school buildings across the country do not meet the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) standards set by the government.
The seminar was organised as part of a country-wide series of seminars to mark the School Safety Day, in line with a unanimous declaration passed at the International School Safety Conference in March 2008.
Speakers at the seminar recommended that May 16 be formally recognised as the National School Safety Day. Moreover they emphasised on the need to develop a national school safety strategy, integrate the DRR in national curriculum, promote partnership with relevant national and international safety organisations, implement standard building codes, and organise better campaigns for advocacy and awareness-raising.
National Disaster Management Authority Chairperson Dr Zafar Iqbal Qadir, the chief guest, said that “joint working groups” will finalise DRR enriched curriculum for Pakistan by the end of the year.
Dr Tariq Mahmood, Deputy Educational Adviser in Curriculum and Textbook Development and Production Unit of the Capital Administration and Development Division, said that by 2014, a “DRR enriched” national curriculum will be available for use across the country.
Eid Dad, a school teacher from the Ghizar District of Gilgit-Baltistan trained as master trainer for creating awareness in schools, said that a visible change can be seen at the school level, where safety and DRR have become a priority. He added that “we have trained the teachers and students on how to come out of the classes within a short [period of] time when [confronted] with disasters like earthquake and fire etcetera.”
Focus Humanitarian Assistance, the organisation behind the seminar, has been providing school safety training to communities since its inception in 1998. It has also worked with the Gilgit-Baltistan government.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2012.
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