From left, Mr Tanaka, Ms Wahlström, Sen. Legarda, and Ms Ocampo at yesterday’s launch of the “How Safe Is Your School?” initiative.
MANILA, 22 November 2013 –
A new programme on school safety launched yesterday in the Philippines less than two weeks after the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan, urges pupils, teachers and communities to proactively assess the resilience and preparedness of their schools.
The unveiling of the "How Safe Is Your School?” initiative in the Philippines is the first step of what the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) intends will be formalized as a global initiative at the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, in Japan, in March 2015.
At the launch, Philippines Senator Loren Legarda, Under-Secretary for the Department of Education Dina Ocampo, UNDP Country Coordinator Tohishiro Tanaka, and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction Ms Margareta Wahlström agreed that protecting future generations is an essential element of sustainable development.
Typhoon Haiyan has caused the displacement of an estimated 1.7 million children, with hundreds of schools destroyed and many others being used as temporary evacuation centres.
Sen. Legarda recalled the deaths of 246 elementary schoolchildren in the 2006 landslide in Southern Leyte, Philippines, and how the earthquakes in Pakistan in 2005 and Sichuan, China, in 2008, resulted in the collapse of many schools and the deaths of thousands of pupils.
She also noted that the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Bohol, Philippines, in October 2013, damaged at least 85 schools.
“We invite citizens to participate in the process of making schools disaster-resilient,” said Sen. Legarda, who is Chair of the Senate Committee on Climate Change and a UN Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation for Asia-Pacific.
“The initial step is assessing the safety of schools in their communities not only in terms of ensuring the structural integrity of the buildings but also in making sure that students and school staff are prepared in the event a natural hazard occurs.
“Among the most vulnerable to disasters are children. It is estimated that 66.5 million children are affected annually by disasters.”
She added that regular earthquake and emergency drills must be conducted in schools and their administrators and personnel should know the proper actions to take when natural hazards occur.
Ms Ocampo said government agencies would retrofit and repair defective buildings. “Schools are owned by communities but shepherded by the Department of Education. An initiative like this keeps us in touch with the users and I will support it,” she said.
Ms Wahlström said it was important that the massive recovery effort underway in the Philippines does not recreate the same previous risks.
“The paradigm is shifting from building back better to building back differently and elsewhere,” said Ms Wahlström, who is also the Chief of UNISDR.
The UN’s 2011 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction said “school safety has been established as a disaster risk reduction priority” but that it was important to do an accurate cost and benefit analysis to determine which schools should be the priority for retrofitting.
School safety has been a long-term priority for UNISDR. In 2012 it released a landmark study titled ‘Assessing school safety from disasters: A global baseline report’. The document said: “Starting from a children’s rights perspective unequivocal commitment to two essential rights is assumed: the right to education and the right to safety.”