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Kazakhstan: Working together before disasters strike

Today is the International Day for Disaster Risk Reducation. This year children and young people are encouraged to step up and take part. Check out this story on disaster preparedness in Kazakhstan.

 

ALMATY, Kazakhstan, 13 October, 2011 — It was clear from the eager responses of the five and six year old children in this class at Kindergarten No. 53 in Almaty in Kazakhstan, that this lesson in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) was one of the most popular of the week.

As the teacher asked questions about the different kinds of disasters being shown on the projector screen at the front of the class, hands shot up from eager students wanting to show their knowledge of emergency situations and what they should do in them.

With the loud blare of a siren, they then had their chance to prove their knowledge. Instantly, the children all hid beneath their desks and covered their heads as they would if they were caught in an earthquake. Then, when given the signal that the initial quake had passed, they filed outside quickly and calmly, for a roll call in the playground from their teacher.

“We have to get under the desks as quick as we can,” explained Sergei Novgorodov, as soon as the drill was over and the class had returned inside.

His friend, Sophia Akzhygitova knew what else they had to do. “We have to hold onto the table with one hand and cover our head with the other arm. And stay away from windows.”

In the Almaty region of Kazakhstan, with its potential for disasters, a pilot programme has shown the effectiveness of integrating lessons in DRR into the mainstream curriculum.

“Here in southern Kazakhstan, we are prone to earthquakes,” explained Kindergarten Head, Lucia Kasenova. “And in Spring and Autumn, there’s a danger from landslides from the mountains nearby, so it’s important for the children to learn.”

Take a short drive to the edge of the city, and the mountain ranges Ms. Kasenova described, are clearly visible, towering upwards from the plains that make up much of this vast country.

Snow-capped, even in the height of summer, they give a sense of the extremes of geography and climate for which Kazakhstan is renowned.

Winter poses a particular risk for the vulnerable here, children especially. The need for children to be prepared for this localized risk is reflected in the materials they use in their DRR lessons.

The Republican Institute responsible for producing training materials for teachers, known by the local acronym RIPKSO, has been developing colourful and attractive booklets covering topics such as extreme cold and first aid.

“We are a huge country and we can have critically low temperatures,” explained RIPKSO Centre Deputy Director, Lubov Dorozhkina. “So we have added a special module on this, specifically for children.”

Teaching materials are adapted for localized risks such as the extreme cold in winter.

Ms. Dorozhkina, along with Government and NGO partners, was present at a meeting specially convened by UNICEF in the Kazakh capital, Astana, to review the work done on implementing DRR education into the school curriculum and to agree on what still needs to be achieved. What was clear to everyone was the need for a comprehensive DRR programme, particularly with concerns that global climate change may lead to an increase in extreme weather events in Kazahstan. 

“According to expert analysis, this will be the century of disasters,” said Syrym Gobbasov, Director of Strategic Planning from the Ministry of Emergency Situations. “The only things we do not face here in Kazakhstan are volcanoes, tsunamis and tornadoes. We have everything else.”

 

With support of UNICEF and the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department, ECHO, an impressive level of collaboration has been achieved since the 2009 signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Emergency Situations and Ministry of Education.

Overcoming an initial lack of DRR materials, thousands of teachers have been trained through the cascade system and a successful pilot programme has been carried out in the Almaty and South Kazakhstan regions.

Individual schools and teachers have also shown their own initiative in helping implement more effective DRR in education.

At School No. 148 in Almaty, children themselves provide photos and written contributions to give a unique first hand student’s perspective to their school’s progress report on DRR training.

The school’s Deputy Head, Kazybek Akhmedjanov, was happy to show off their work; albums full of photos depicting the many drills and lessons they had undertaken. Hearing the childrens’ own experiences made a big difference.

“It’s the best form of documentation,” he said.

Among the various activities they were engaged in, the school children were keen to show off their new found DRR skills.

On the word of command from their teacher, they all crouched on the floor, covering their noses and mouths with their hands, as they made their way out of the room as though it was on fire.

The best evidence of how well children have absorbed the DRR messages is in the drills they practice.

Hanaa Singer, UNICEF Representative in Kazakhstan, summed up the sense of accomplishment. “I think it’s a fantastic programme, honestly. I saw the simulation. I saw the response of the children there, and I know we don’t only have to depend on the Government and the community, but we really can depend on the children also.”

 

 
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