Ms. Margareta Wahlstrom, head of UNISDR, Dr. Morteza Raissi Dehkordi, Deputy Minister for Education, Iran, and Prof. Mohsen Ghafory-Ashtiany of the International Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology at the opening day of the Safe School Leaders meeting in Tehran. (Photo: UNISDR)
By Denis McClean
TEHRAN, 5 October 2015
- Iran’s commitment to ensuring Safe Schools was made clear yesterday as it announced plans to spend $3 billion over the next five years to complete its programme of retrofitting or reconstructing all public schools located in the country’s seismic zones.
The country has also offered to share its technical expertise and knowledge with other countries in the Worldwide Safe Schools Initiative (WISS) launched by UNISDR and partners at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, in March.
Iran has made remarkable progress since the Bam earthquake which claimed over 30,000 lives in 2003 and placed earthquake safety high on the national agenda. In 2005, Parliament passed a Law of Schools and allocated $4.5 billion to ensure that 95,000 schools for 13 million students are safe against earthquakes, floods and fire.
Speaking yesterday to the second meeting of Safe School Leaders, attended by 24 countries, Dr. Morteza Raissi Dehkordi, Deputy Minister for Education and head of Iran’s Safe Schools programme, said that all schools in danger zones have been assessed and over 66% were found to need either retrofitting or reconstruction, work that has been underway since 2006.
He explained that 83% of the work has been completed and the remainder will require a budget allocation of $3 billion which he was confident of receiving.
During a question and answer session following a visit to three retrofitted schools in Tehran, Dr. Raissi emphasized the important role that individual donors and the private sector play in supporting the safe schools programme which raised $200 million from non-governmental sources last year.
“In Iran there is very strong cultural support for safe schools. Most donors give not because of tax exemptions but because they see how important this is for the country’s future. It is about our values as a society and it is an investment in our youth. Before we embarked on the safe schools programme we created public awareness of the risk and what could be done and this generated political commitment and support at the highest levels in the country including the Supreme Leader,” said Dr. Raissi.
Iran’s safe schools programme goes beyond structural improvements. Prof. Mohsen Ghafory-Ashtiany of the International Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology, said great emphasis was placed on training teachers how to talk to students about earthquake risk and there are now 18 text books for students from the 1st grade to the 12th grade.
Prof. Mohsen-Ashtiany said the national earthquake drill which takes place on November 18 is preceded by a month of preparation for the students. “We make it a fun learning experience and the students do lots of different projects which can include painting, writing and telling stories. The children are also important for disseminating information to the broader community particularly parents who are also engaged through school committees.”
Representatives from 24 countries are participating in two days of meetings as part of the Worldwide Initiative for Safe Schools.
Ms. Margareta Wahlström, head of UNISDR, said: “The support of Iran is important to the success of the Worldwide Initiative for Safe Schools. Iran’s offer to share its technical expertise and knowledge of seismic risk reduction with other countries is most welcome and will be enthusiastically received by many countries who lack the experience and knowledge which Iran has carefully accumulated over the last 12 years.”
This second meeting of Safe School leaders is being attended by representatives from Armenia, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Georgia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lao PDR, Madagascar, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Panama, Qatar, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Turkey, and the USA.
In addition to UNISDR, there is also participation from UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Gary Lewis, the Global Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience in the Education Sector including UNESCO; Plan International, UK; ASEAN Safe Schools Initiative; the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; Iranian Red Crescent Society and UNICEF.