Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Aftermath in China

The figures are astounding - about 900 children may be buried in one school - included are a middle school and a three-storeyed high school building. The questions have begun to emerge for me:

What were the school building codes like?

How soon after the first jolt did the school buildings collapse?

How knowledgeable were adminstrators, students and teachers about the risks and vulnerability of the area to earthquakes?

What did engineers, geologist an hazard managers know about these vulnerabilities?

What did decisionmakers and other community leaders know about the risks?

Did the schools have plans in the event of such disaster events?

What was the pupil-teacher ratio?

Were drills, simulations ever conducted?

What kinds of safety policies and procedures were in place to protect teachers and students for this eventuality?

How should the education sytem respond and how quickly can they return these schools to normalcy?

Did anyone walk out of these schools alive and how were they able to do that?

Were there adequate emergency exits in the building?

Should we re-think building heights for schools? or other buidlings of mass occupancy?

How do we prepare schools for these future eventualities?

Answers to these would not only help China but the rest of the world in better preparing schools for disaster events and reducing the vulnerabilities to these disasters.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tragedy in China

As I write the story unfolds with chilling pictures of a 7.9 earthquake on the Richter Scale; eight schools toppled with hundred of teachers and students trapped. Finding them alive beneath these tonnes of concrete rubble, is going to be a real challenge for rescuers. The sight of mothers with their ears clinging to their cellphone tells the all too familiar stories these days about schools, education and emergencies. Hospitals and factories also collapsed posing concerns about the safety status of public buildings in China and I am sure in other countries worldwide. When the dust will have settled and the rescuers called it a day, the debate will rage on:

How prepared are schools and school administrators for these kindsof disasters?

What plans are in or have been put in place to mitigate against these calamities?

How structurally sounds are the buildings in which children are schooled and what can be done to improve the safely of these structures?

How can rsileince be build in to school programs and structure to mitigate the impact of emergeincies and disasters?

The Unversity of Pittsburgh is at the forefornt of ensuring that there is advocacy and expert advise available to improve on the safety in schools as well as providing tool for mitgation of emergencies and disasters. Our pioneering work on GIS/GPS and emergencies in education is one way to provide information for evacuation of schools and response during disasters. The School of Education, Global Information Network in Education (GINIE) through its Help Desk stands ready to answer questions, queries and provide information and expert advice on emergency situations related to education.

As the frequency of disasters increase, we need to build greater resilience at the community level for disaster events can quickly paralyze communication and transport- two key sectors essential for response and rescue. Increasingly first responders must be community based, hopsitals and other treatment centers must be local or established locally. Children must be taught not only about disasters but for disasters. Students need to be sensitized, irrespective of age, to the impact of disaster and how to make themselves safe. The situation in China underscores the urgent need to pursue this approach; an education in disasters but also for disasters. Our work with USAID can be used as a benchmark for retrofitting school building for example. Conducting persistent drills that go beyond fires is another example.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Disasters in Myanmar, Chile and Peru and children

It has been a devastating week - a cyclone in Myanmar; a volcanic eruption in Southern Chile and flooding in Northern Peru. As the pictures unfold, the site of school aged children wandering the streets of Yangon, boarding an evacuation ship in Chile or stringed across a swollen river In Peru paints a haunting situation. Already two schools in Peru have been destroyed. Schools in the affected areas in Chile have been abandoned and it is difficult to tell how many schools in the Myanmar have been destroyed or disrupted. Five states have been declared disaster areas there. The images are chilling and the need for help overwhelming. The disruption of communication and transport again puts the spotlight on local communities and their roles in emergency and disaster management. Autonomous communities tend to respond faster in emergency situations and are better able to manage the aftermath and defer the progression into a disaster situation. The socioeconomic conditions of residents did contribute to the impact of the disaster event - the limited resources available to deal with mitigation and preparedness; the poor quality of infrastructure and the reduced resilience as a result. Then there are the children and their education who become lost in the move towards normalcy and the kinds of responses that allow for adjustments to the changes inflicted as a result of these disaster events. They will need makeshift, temporary schools, teacher and learning materials. What about students who are in their final year of schooling? What about their examinations? How will they perform on these? What about their books and other curriculum related materials?What has happens to them? School uniforms, etc? What about their parents and how they fared in these disaster events? How soon will these children lives return to normal? After all education is part of their normal. Education in emergencies is essential because schools are central to the lives of children and it symbolizes a return to normal