In 2011 alone, 302 hazards resulted in disasters that claimed almost 30,000 lives, affected 206 million people and inflicted damages worth an estimated US$366 billion, according to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. These figures are likely to increase unless populations improve their capacity to anticipate, prepare and become more resilient to such events.
In response to this need, and convinced that the best place to start is in the classroom well before disaster strikes, UNESCO and UNICEF have published a comprehensive study called Disaster Risk Reduction in School Curricula.
The study was undertaken by David Selby and Fumiyo Kagawa of Sustainability Frontiers, an international partnership that specializes in education reform. Available online, the document explores good disaster risk reduction (DRR) practices and education in 30 countries, including Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, Turkey, Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, The Philippines, Angola, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, France, Japan, New Zealand, British Virgin Islands, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Nicaragua, Peru, Egypt, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Benin and Nigeria.
In the Maldives, for example, more than 120,000 students, 30% of the archipelago’s population, are increasingly threatened by the combined hazards of storm surges, rising sea levels and cyclones. In 2009, the Maldives Ministry of Education took action by implementing an eight-month pilot program designed to educate students, parents, atoll chiefs and community leaders on disaster preparedness. New textbooks and guides were distributed by the UNDP, allowing teachers to include safety lessons in every class, from chemistry to social studies.
The Philippines, though it regularly is faced with landslides and volcanic eruptions, provides another good example. By focusing on curriculum development, regular assessments and school text books, the Filipino government has ensured that students of all ages know when and how best to act in disaster scenarios.
Qian Tang, the UNESCO Assistant Director-General of Education, explains, “By placing Education and Disaster Risk Reduction at the heart of the sustainable development agenda we are offering future generations the chance to thrive.”
“We hope that this publication and the subsequent technical guidance for education planners that UNICEF and UNESCO are developing will provide support to all countries in the process of integrating disaster risk reduction into their curricula,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF.
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