Protecting a generation

Saad Hammadi writes how school authorities and students are preparing themselves for disasters amid concerns about lack of open space to reach to safety

PHOTOS BY SAAD HAMMADI

The government fears that schools are prone to major damages and have higher number of casualty from disasters including earthquake, cyclone, fire and flood during day time.
Bangladesh has about 66,000 primary schools and 32,000 high schools across the country that has been historically prone to disasters due to its geographic position.
Students interviewed by New Age Youth feel that the training is extremely important as they do not know the procedure to save themselves during such crisis.
In light of the situation, the government has introduced a disaster preparedness programme funded by Dipecho – the European Union’s humanitarian aid and civil protection operations – for primary and secondary schools in the country since May 2015. Save the Children has been facilitating the government with technical assistance to introduce the programme in the schools.
The government finalised the school emergency response guidelines for primary schools in August and for the secondary schools in the first week of September.
Each disaster has a separate emergency response guideline. The guidelines focus on standard operating procedures in each situation, key messages and drills. The earthquake preparedness for instance trains students and teachers about ‘drop, cover and hold’ so that students instead of running out haphazardly go under table, cover their heads with books or bags and hold on to their cover.
The preparedness response is aimed at streamlining the procedure for safe evacuation from some of the most frequent disasters.
‘If we have preparedness ahead of time, we would be able to tackle the situation better,’ says SM Wahiduzzaman, director general of directorate of secondary and higher education.
The typical and most common forms of flaws during earthquake, fire and other forms of crisis is that people tend to run hysterically. In a situation of flood, cyclone, fire or earthquake during day time, schools are feared to have a large concentration of children, putting the lives of future generation at risk.
Previous documentation reveals that an earthquake in Pakistan killed 19,000 children while another earthquake of 6.1 in Sichuan, China in 2008 killed at least 5,000 children as thousands of school buildings collapsed. An organised effort in the form of training children on how they should respond can reduce the risks, says Wahiduzzaman.
Wahiduzzaman tells New Age Youth that the authorities have already trained 2,600 schools. ‘We have not set a timeframe to cover all the schools but it is a continuous process,’ he says.
Many students still have no hands on experience on the preparedness programmes for each of the identified risks and do not know the coordination process.
‘I have not received any disaster preparedness training since joining the college,’ says Saquib Jawad, a student of class XII who joined Rajuk Uttara Model College in June 2015. ‘School authorities once advised us to take shelter under the benches during an earthquake,’ says Jawad but he does not know the next steps.
Rajuk has an eight-storied and a six-storied building. Jawad studies in the fifth floor of the eight-storied building. ‘It is not clear who would raise the alarms or when we would evacuate,’ says an anxious Jawad.
Jawad informs New Age Youth that a practical drill was provided to students of classes six and seven earlier this year but not to the senior batches.
Most drills including fire and earthquake, requires the students to reach to a safe location. However, Dhaka’s concrete jungle offers little open space for students to seek safety from a disaster. Monir Uddin, manager of school disaster management at Save the Children fears that the risk for secondary hazard from fire and electrocution is going to be higher than the immediate risk from a disaster.
Schools would also require changes and improvisation in their logistics such as the benches they provide to the students. The height of the benches in some schools is too low for students to take shelter and unless they are strengthened, students can be hurt, Uddin tells New Age Youth.
‘We have a common guideline, which the school authorities are expected to follow applying practical circumstances. You take measures based on what is practically feasible,’ explains Wahiduzzaman.
Depending on locations, an evacuation process can take between 15 minutes to three hours, he tells New Age Youth.
At the Yearpur High School in Savar, students participated in a similar earthquake drill early August where 300 students evacuated the school within three-minutes and resorted to a safe location.
‘It is important for our safety and survival,’ says Aslam Hossain, 15, a student of class nine at the Yearpur High School.
Teachers will make a signal if there is an earthquake. We will drop under a bench and take cover and hold against something strong so we do not fall. When they would make a second alarm we will get out of the classroom in a queue,’ explains 15-year-old Lucky Akther, who is also a student of class nine at the Yearpur High School.
The nation stands on three tectonic plates of which the Indian plate moving in the north-east direction has been stuck against the Myanmar sub-plate moving in a south-westerly direction for at least 400 years, says Syed Humayun Akhter, professor of geology and seismology at the University of Dhaka and author of the latest study revealing how a mega earthquake 9 magnitude is looming in the region consisting of India, Myanmar and Bangladesh. A slip between the two plates can affect a region of 250 square kilometres losing the children.

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