ECOSOC 2011 Statement by Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction

 
Disasters have a proven negative impact on education and the efforts of governments to achieve MDG 2. As an example, in the period from 1989 to 2010, in just 19 countries 63,667 schools and 4,873 health facilities were destroyed, together 73,000 kilometers of roads damaged, 3,605 municipal water systems, 4,400 sewer systems and 6,980 power installations. In particular, 46% of the schools, 54% of the health facilities, 80% of the roads and 90% of the water and power installations, were damaged and destroyed in low-frequency, low-severity extensive disasters, not reflected in the media.

These losses are exactly the investments that are made by countries to improve the health, education and welfare of their citizens to achieve the MDGs. And yet, few – although increasing – numbers of countries and local governments have public investment budgets that include risk criteria for public investments. Nor does the international community yet recognize fully that, if global, sustained and equitable development is to be achieved, disaster risk, climate risk and our inability to reduce absolute poverty must shape the risk management framework within which plans for managing energy, water and global public goods must be designed.

Disaster situations deprive children of access to safe learning environments and general education over an extended period of time, thereby leading to increased drop-outs, lower returns on investments and the loss of hard-earned development gains that jeopardize sustainable development efforts. The latter are significantly exacerbated by poverty and environmental challenges, such as climate change. Studies of disaster trends and the likely consequences of climate change suggest that each year 175 million children are likely to be affected by climate-related disasters alone, with currently 72 million remaining out of school globally and almost half of these in sub-Saharan Africa.

Schools and education centres are or should be at the heart of the community. As such, they must be disaster resilient to become safe education and knowledge heavens where family will feel confidence to send their children during school times. Strengthening school building infrastructures not only contributes to saving community members' lives but also allows for long-term investment in the community's sustainable future. Safe building ensure the safety of children and teachers and that the education investments are made more viable.

The cost of achieving universal primary education is not high, but the loss of teachers’ lives, the mass collapse of sub-standard and poorly-built schools in disaster situations make the cost much higher. School safety is an economically and politically worthwhile long-term investment. It is encouraging that a growing number of countries are engaged in making school safety a top priority as part of their development planning and national agenda. At the 2009 and 2011 sessions of the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction, participants, including Governments, committed to assess all vulnerable schools by the end of 2011 and develop relevant disaster risk reduction action plans by 2015. Despite major efforts being made at the national level worldwide, we are still seeing far too little progress in this domain.

The integration of education on how to reduce the disaster risk impact on people, families and communities into school curricula is a key complementary action. Education saves lives. It is critical to empower children living in vulnerable communities to have easy and systematic access to education in order to acquire the relevant knowledge and skills to reduce their own vulnerabilities and contribute to protecting the whole community against disasters.

Enhancing disaster risk reduction education, and reducing the vulnerability of school children and educational facilities to disasters is not the sole responsibility of Governments and requires the involvement of key strategic partners such as education specialists and practitioners, policy makers, parliamentarians, the private sector, local authorities, and the youth.

Reducing the impact of disasters on education is possible. Four actions are required: 1) integrating disaster risk reduction into school curricula, 2) assessing and retrofitting the most vulnerable educational facilities, and allocating national budget to this aim, 3) after disasters avoiding rebuilding without assessing the risk from and exposure to further disasters, and 4) training and equipping teachers to also lead on disaster risk reduction and disaster risk reduction education.
The Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction will take place in 2015 The Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction will take place in 2015.
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