Phnom Penh, 22 November 2018 - In a bid to increase school safety in Cambodia’s most vulnerable communities, UNDP and Save the Children have joined hands in the coastal province of Koh Kong. The collaboration marks a fresh partnership between the two organisations on promoting local school-level disaster preparedness while also supporting the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport’s national disaster management strategy.
The cooperation started this month with the roll out of teacher training and simulations in five disaster-prone schools (located in Beoung Kachang, Koh Srolao, Tameak, Chamlong Kor and Chroy Pros communes). It brings the nationwide number of drills facilitated by UNDP with the support of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ten, involving over 1,500 students.
The drills focused on applying disaster management plans developed by the schools themselves with UNDP and Save the Children’s support.
In addition to the drills, the partnership also saw Save the Children engage with principals, teachers and government education officials on how to assess and prepare their schools for disaster, using UNDP’s Training of Trainers (ToT) model. Under this model, school safety disaster management committees are formed and teachers supported to identify hazards and develop standard operating procedures for disasters.
In the coming weeks, feedback from teachers and students will feed into a standardised ToT Manual, an initiative started by UNDP in the coastal province of Sihanoukville earlier this year. The meetings will also seek local support for the nationwide adoption of the manual.
Cambodia is well acquainted with disasters, making the initiative to reach out to schools an important one. In August, the National Committee for Disaster Management (NDCM) reported that 30 people had been killed by flooding caused by heavy rainfall and a swelling Mekong River. In 2017, disasters killed 103 people, injuring 120. Children remain among the most vulnerable: in the floods of 2000, children reportedly accounted for 80% of deaths.
With climate variability leading to uncertainty of rainfall, flood waters can rise unexpectedly and rapidly. An absence of early warning as well as false perception of risk can catch people unaware, especially in areas frequently affected by high tides and river flooding. The absence of clear signs indicating an extreme event may lead communities to perceive conditions as ‘normal’.
According to Muhibuddin Usamah, a Disaster Management Specialist at UNDP Cambodia, disaster awareness and preparedness is something we need to impress on children from an early age. By coupling the involvement of children and community members with local-level climate analysis, risk can be mitigated and future losses and damages reduced.
Understanding risk, having an orderly evacuation plan, and teaching basic survival skills such as swimming are critical to ensuring students and teachers make it to safety when faced with rapidly rising water. Equipping students with the knowledge about local hazards and what to do in the event of a disaster is critical to saving lives.
“We need to weave awareness into the curriculum at all levels, but also prepare children by going through the motions of what to do via simulations or drills. Emergencies can be stressful and chaotic, but by practicing, teachers and students will be better equipped to respond calmly and effectively,” said Usamah. “Schools, along with temples, are key means through which communities receive information and instruction on disaster preparedness.”
“The school communities involved in Koh Kong express their gratitude to the Government of Japan for funding this important initiative under the regional project on strengthening school preparedness for tsunami,” continued Usamah. “With their support we’ve been able to conduct on-the-ground activities, engaging more than 1,500 students while also raising the risk awareness and disaster preparedness of Cambodia’s future generations.”
“Our collaboration with Save the Children is also about advancing the cause of disaster preparedness at the national level, and advocating for the national adoption of a standardised ToT manual by the government. This initiative is also linked to the promotion of the EWS1294 SMS-based early warning system in schools aimed at alerting local populations in Cambodia about extreme natural events.”