Making education sector disaster-resilient


Saleem Shaikh

Over the last five years, public infrastructure in Pakistan has suffered significant damages because of climate change-induced disasters, particularly floods and cloudburst-triggered heavy rains. These disasters have undermined the socio-economic gains achieved as a result of budgetary allocations worth billions. Educational sector has particularly suffered.
Thousands of public schools across the country have been damaged–at least, partially–by consecutive floods between 2010 and 2015. According to the UN estimates, these floods caused economic and infrastructural damages to the tune of around US $25 billion and the recovery of these damages require an additional US $35 billion dollars.
Of all the infrastructural damages caused by exacerbated fallouts of the climatic disasters, such as floods, glacier lake outburst floods, landslides, and land erosion over the last 60 years, 80 percent have occurred over the last five years.
A review of the impacts of these disasters indicates that the educational infrastructure has severely been hit while most of them being school buildings in rural areas remain unrestored. Students of these damaged school buildings are forced to sit in open spaces under the sky.
Disasters induced by climate change, especially those between 2010 to 2015 indicate that the country’s education sector is critically vulnerable to floods, which have shown an increased frequency as the region continues to witness erratic and cloudburst-induced heavy rains.
Damages suffered by the educational sector because of earthquake further worsen the impacts of climate change-induced disasters. Recurrent earthquakes of varying intensity only add more gravity to the problem.
For instance, over 18,000 children died in the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan while an even greater number was injured in widespread collapses of over 58,000 schools. School children are at a significantly greater risk of receiving more harm during disasters like earthquake and floods.
The heightened climate vulnerability of the education sector emphasises a need for a policy response that aims to establish safe school buildings, especially in the event of any disaster, and provides self-based disaster response training to students and teachers to reduce losses of human lives.
There is an adequate realisation amongst policymakers and disaster resilience experts that the fallouts of climate change on the country’s socio-economic sectors can be significantly minimised and even overcome through an effective implementation of policy responses. These responses would help make educational sector disaster-resilient. An over-arching plan in this regard, which was rolled out in August this year by National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in support of the UNICEF, is more than a welcome move. The blueprint, “Pakistan School Based Disaster Risk Management (PSBDRM) Framework,” aims to establish a disaster-resilient and climate-proof educational sector and ensure the safety of the schoolchildren and teachers in the event of any disaster. It spells out measures to guide school safety initiatives, mainstream disaster-resilience into school construction activities, formulate school disaster management plans, and promote awareness through practical exercises, mock evacuation drills, an inclusion of disaster risk reduction in the curriculum, and extra-curricular activities, which include speech competitions and painting exhibitions. Given the vulnerability of schoolchildren, teachers and other school staff members, guiding them on how to save their lives, as proposed in the NDMA’s PSBDRM, is of an unprecedented value.
The framework has been rolled out after national-level consultative meetings with the government and private sector stakeholders. It was also reviewed by international consultants, according to NDMA Chairman, Maj. Gen. Asghar Nawaz.
The authority has already started implementing the PSBDRM framework to pre-test it at as many as 68 public and private sector schools as a pilot project before expanding it to all schools across the country. These schools have been selected by the education department and the secretariats of the private school systems.
The primary goal of this pilot project is to identify challenges in the implementation of the framework and, if a need arises, modify it to make it more viable and productive in boosting disaster preparedness, improving responses and recovery, with a special focus on children. It has been observed that the lives of schoolchildren, educational activities and school infrastructure are badly impacted in the event of any disaster.
Preparing schoolchildren on how to be safe, provision of an unhampered education, and a climate-resilient school infrastructure has become inevitable as the country continues to face climate change-caused disasters, particularly floods, landslides, cloudbursts, land heavy rain as well as flood-triggered land erosion.
Various research studies postulate that most risks faced by schoolchildren are usually caused by decisions taken by elders, including their parents, teachers and government officials. Therefore, communication about disaster safety measures, as recommended in the framework, should feature community meetings, broadcast media, religious and community opinion leaders. All these actors can play a vital role in addressing the impacts of disasters. This can be achieved by bridging information, skill and motivational gaps amongst the three key stakeholders.
With children representing over a third of disaster victims, the humanitarian sector cannot confine children’s role in disasters to that of passive victims. However, providing them with an opportunity to directly get involved in DRR and resilience-building activities would provide them with an enabling environment to develop skills to respond to any disaster risk on their own. Furthermore, addressing the usage of non-quality building material in school construction in violation of the existing building codes laws and the relocation of schools away from disaster-prone areas are additional challenges.
These obstacles can also be overcome with the actualisation of the framework’s recommendations regarding the inclusion of disaster-resilience construction concept into school construction plans across the country. For instance, ERRA re-built new schools on raised mud platforms and used wood planks and tin-made roofs in the construction of new schools in the earthquake and flood-prone areas, which have withstood these disasters in the following.
Therefore, it would be of great value that such disaster mitigation-related examples amongst other recommendations proposed in the school safety framework are taken into account. Consulting relevant education policymakers and disaster-resilient construction experts for making schools disaster-safe and the inclusion of disaster preparedness and resilience lessons in school curricula can also help make the country climate-resilient.
Educating and empowering school children with knowledge and strategies, which would help them cope with disasters, could indirectly influence families and communities. Children are the motivational reservoir who can encourage their family members to act. In fact, they connect families with the community.