At a glance: Philippines

Disaster preparedness for schools in the Philippines

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© UNICEF/2008/McBride
Children at the Banadero Elementary School in Albay province, the Philippines, with their UNICEF emergency preparedness bags.

By Rob McBride

This year’s International Day for Disaster Reduction, 8 October, arrives in the wake of a series of earthquakes, cyclones and hurricanes that have highlighted the urgent need to reduce disaster risk. The following story marks the occasion.

ALBAY PROVINCE, Philippines, 7 October 2008 – At Banadero Elementary School, the clanging of the alarm bell echoes around the schoolyard. Children file out of their classrooms in orderly columns to pre-arranged assembly points. All the pupils, even the youngest, have the calm composure that comes from practice, because they have been through this drill before.

Towering above their tin-roofed school is the perfectly formed cone of the Mount Mayon volcano; a steady plume of steam and smoke coming from its crater.

With such an imposing neighbour, which has a history of violent eruptions, practice evacuation drills are a part of school life. “Due to these drills … we are not anymore afraid, because we already know what to do in times of calamities,” said the Banadero school’s principal, Paulina Vibal.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/2008/McBride
Mount Mayon volcano looms above city of Legazpi in the Philippines.

Albay bears the brunt of disasters

Early warning systems are now in place to give advance notice that such calamities are imminent. But the evacuations are nonetheless worrying for young evacuees. Joshua Loria, 11, has already experienced two of them.

“There were lots of people everywhere, and we felt worried,” he confided. “We did not know whether our home would still be there when we got back.”

Joshua was last evacuated in 2006, when the south of Luzon Island in the Philippines suffered widespread devastation from strong typhoons. Some 7,000 schools were destroyed, along with more than 600 day care centres, affecting nearly half a million children. Albay bore the brunt, sandwiched between the Mayon volcano, which unleashed rivers of volcanic material loosened by the rains, and the Pacific coast, where the typhoons roared ashore.

Building back better

Destroyed homes and schools still bear testimony to the destruction in what is probably the most disaster-prone corner of the country. But everywhere, there are also signs of reconstruction, with new buildings – better able to withstand better the forces of nature – replacing those destroyed. 

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Joshua Loria, 11, in his classroom at the Banadero Elementary School in the Philippines, where a disaster preparedness programme is in effect.

At the San Jose Elementary School, UNICEF consultant Elmer Texon gave a tour of a classroom block that had just been completed thanks to a donation from the Government of the Netherlands.

“So this is steel,” he said, tapping on a school door, which clanged reassuringly. “The door frames are also made of steel. The windows are steel also.”

Along with bathrooms, the classroom block was also fitted with communal kitchens. In an emergency, this building would double as an evacuation centre for the surrounding community.

Emergency bags distributed

“This is built for that purpose – floods, typhoons, Mayon eruption,” said the San Jose school’s principal, Adelia Vibar, listing some of the natural disasters that could befall the area next.

While hoping there never will be another disaster, preparing for one makes sense in a country that routinely suffers an average of 14 typhoons every year. So far in 2008, eight typhoons have already passed through the region. At many schools in this province, children have received emergency bags containing essential items that will be needed in the event of evacuation.

Joshua hopes he will not have to use these items anytime soon. But given where he lives, he knows it is probably best to keep the emergency supplies handy, just in case.


 

 

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UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on disaster preparedness programmes for schools in the Philippines..
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