Turkmenistan: Resilient children, safe communities

United Nations Children's Fund (Global Headquarters, New York)

The last 10 years have seen some of the largest disasters on record. UNICEF is featuring our work on DRR in this region to coincide with the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction on 14-18 March in Sendai, Japan.

We focus on protecting and caring for children in danger — wherever they are — and the efforts to start building more stable futures for all children, including the most vulnerable.

By Gulyalek Soltanova

Turkmenabat - “If you want to go sightseeing in our city of Turkmenabat, please visit the Amul castle,” said Kamila (16), a student at School 29 in Turkmenabat, the biggest school in Lebap region, eastern Turkmenistan. Her school has 2,800 students and 130 teaching staff.

“I recommend visiting Castle Amul not only as a historical and archaeological spot 10 km away from the city centre, but also because it is the highest point of the city where people should run in case of flooding,” she added.

Kamila and her schoolmates are well aware of the risks of flooding in the area, which is close to the Amudarya River flowing just a kilometre away from Turkmenabat. The abundant water flowing in the Amudarya from Tajikistan and Afghanistan, can run out of banks and flood the neighbouring territories. In winter, the river can have ice blockage. In late 2007, the river got frozen and to prevent flooding, actions were taken to eliminate ice blockage.

Another risk for Lebap region is Lake Sarez in Tajikistan, which can have a potential landslide some four kilometres upstream, on the right bank of the lake. Some reports warn that, should a strong earthquake occur near the lake, roughly three cubic kilometres of material might fall into the lake. Such an event could trigger an enormous wave, which would submerge the natural dam and possibly wash it away. Impact projections suggest the flood could affect thousands of people in eastern Turkmenistan living along the Amudarya River.

Kamila heard the stories from the witnesses of the massive flooding that happened in early winter of 1969 when most of Turkmenabat city and Farap village were under the water leaving thousands of people without homes.

“When there is a flood, we should not panic and act very fast to save our lives and the lives of our families. We need to run to the highest point in the city and carry a bag with water, documents, and some basic items,” Kamila said. She acquired this life-saving skill at her school, selected as a pilot school where the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) initiative was introduced in 2013. The DRR initiative run by the Government of Turkmenistan, UNICEF and the European Commission Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection – ECHO’s Disaster Preparedness Programme (DIPECHO) aimed at raising awareness of schoolchildren and building resilience to emergencies.

Children are eager to share their knowledge on emergency preparedness with peers, parents and anyone interested.

Guncha Jorayeva (17) is also knowledgeable about the risks of natural disasters. “I know that the aftermath of flooding could be as devastating as the flooding itself. The water may affect chemical factories and there might be an epidemic. To prevent the spread of water borne diseases, we must keep our hands clean and regularly wash them with soap,” she said.

Artyom (16) showed how to escape the building and what measures one should take in case of fire. “We should cover our mouth and nose with a piece of cloth not to inhale the smoke. If we are to run through the fire or heavy smoke, we should cover ourselves with a wet cloth, open the door slowly to escape the sudden flame and only then leave the building.”

Murad Rustamov (9) said he knows how to act in case of earthquake by demonstrating how he places himself under the desk covering his head. He can also cite the rhyme about earthquakes:

Suddenly there is an earthquake,
And everything started falling.
Get under the desk, be fast!
Sit and await the help.

Murad learned this rhyme at Life Skills lessons at which students acquire knowledge and skills on emergency preparedness. Teachers from School 29, Ahmed Yazdanov and Leyla Pigamova are authors of this rhyme as well authors of the Life Skills Education textbook for first graders.

Schoolchildren contributed their ideas and drawings to the book as well as creatively developed imaginary characters “Dostiki” (“friends”) – two boys and two girls who lead through the textbook and help readers to develop survival and development skills.

As part of the DRR initiative’s first phase, teachers of School 29 participated at the DRR training for trainers. The school has been officially certified as child-friendly by the Government of Turkmenistan and adheres to all principles of the child-friendly schools, which include DRR specific indicators to advance safe and protective environment. The new phase of the DRR initiative envisages UNICEF and ECHO support in developing a school safety assessment tool as well as incorporating DRR into the national education system. There is also a need to train teachers on strengthening specific skills, such as giving the first aid, or planning evacuation or help children overcome emergency related stress.

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