39 Schools in Armenia’s Borderline Communities Equipped with Disaster Risk Reduction Plans
With the support of the UK Government’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, UNICEF strengthened 39 community schools with proper plans and equipment against disasters
Number 1 school in Chambarak, awash in sun and still pallid, full of children but downcast, creased and cracked, is located only a kilometer away from Armenia’s eastern border. The building is in use, albeit in bad shape, and, until recently, its 457 students were deprived of adequate protection from disasters.
Located along Armenia’s borders with Azerbaijan, the marzes of Gegharkunik, Syunik and Vayots Dzor were directly affected by Nagorno Karabakh conflict and the life across the borderline remains precarious
With the support of the UK Government’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF), UNICEF partnered with the Disaster Risk Reduction National Platform (ARNAP) to help 39 schools, like Chambarak, to review and update their disaster risk reduction plans and get necessary protection kits. The kits include fire extinguishers, alarm bullhorns, evacuation route plaques, buckets, spades, first aid kits and personal protection equipment to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
UNICEF’s Acting Disaster Risk Reduction Programme Officer Armenuhi Hovakimyan notes, “In the first phase of the project, we mapped the schools along the border that lacked updated disaster risk reduction plans and necessary protection items. After the mapping and a subsequent needs assessment, we worked with our partners to help the schools in revisiting or developing these plans and supplied necessary equipment.”
“Climate change and depletion of natural resources are expected to lead to an increased number of natural disasters in this region. Combined with lack of preparedness in these communities, it leads to a higher risk and could lead to a larger scale of humanitarian needs. More often than not, children comprise over a half of disaster victims and suffer the most. In this context, it’s important to have a ready plan for disaster risk reduction (DRR), promote awareness of essential preparedness steps for every school, every student, and ever teacher and parent.”
UNICEF and partners helped set up the DRR team at Chambarak school #1 that included four teachers and two students who underwent a two-day training. Guided by a specialist, they identified the hazards jeopardizing their school, examined its vulnerabilities and protection capacity. The findings of the analysis lead to the joint development of a new plan for disaster risk management (DRM), comprising three main areas of work: reduction, preparedness and response. The plan was then submitted to the Ministry of Emergency Situations for review.
“Once DRM plans are submitted by the schools, we study them at great length and compare the hazards identified therein with our database, in order to understand whether every hazard has been accounted for. In the review process we help the DRR teams to prioritise hazards with a significantly higher risk factor. The plan is a lengthy document, and we do our best to make it as clear and straightforward as possible. It is also important to consider that schools in the same area may share common risks, hence the completed plans of these 39 schools can be of use for other schools in the neighborhood,” explained Hovhannes Hovhannesyan, Head of Protection of Population and Disaster Risk Reduction Planning Department at Ministry of Emergency Situations Rescue Service.
After the feedback and comments from the Ministry, the plan is next submitted to the school principal for final approval and becomes an important working document.
Mary, 14, and Narek, 14, represent the student body in the school’s DRR team. Together with their four teachers, Mary and Narek completed the training sessions and took part in the subsequent assessment of the school’s vulnerabilities and the design of evacuation plans. Both of them ascribe great importance to the notion of social responsibility within the community where each member has a duty to work together with other members of the community for the benefit of the society at large.
“My involvement in this important process provided me with a greater sense of responsibility towards the community. I have learned a lot and am compelled to share all this with my fellow students. We plan to establish new sub-groups in May and present our ideas for protection mechanisms and evacuation plans.”
“In the wake of the recent powerful earthquake, I felt the increased urgency of being prepared. I feel like one major shock in our community, could bring this building down. One needs to prepare to face these risks. Necessary information can be life-saving and many students or teachers may not know that only the ground and first floor students should ran out, whereas students on the upper floors should seek cover under the main walls or tables.”
“The seminar helped me to understand how unprepared we are in terms of protection against even common disasters: a fire or an earthquake. We expect the construction of a new school building to start next year, but it will be a time-consuming process. Until then we are in this old building that was affected by the Nagorno-Karabakh war in early 1990s, with holes on the walls from bullets and a half-mended roof of the gym that was shelled back then. With the updated plans and team in place and the new knowledge, we feel more at ease and somewhat better protected,” said Mr Yeritsyan, School #1 deputy principal and a member of the DRR team.
The 39 schools included in the project were also supplied with first aid kits that included over 30 items each, from bandages, patches and elastic bands of various sizes, sterile wipes, medical scissors, a thermometer, assorted bandaids to medical grade rubber gloves, disinfecting and antiseptic solutions and ointments, and a foil blanket.
“During the two-day training, myself and several students established a first aid team. We organised first aid training. So if, God forbid, a disaster were to strike, our team will be immediately activated and we’ll get down to business,” says Anahit Abrahamyan, who is excited about the new knowledge and the new materials for the school.
Along with the first aid team and in line with the with the DRM plan, other teams were set up too: an evacuation team, a shelter team, a communications team and a team for psychological support.
“The purpose of this whole process is not only to supply the schools with preparedness packages or for them to have an operational disaster protection plan, but to also emphasize the importance of awareness and building and spreading a culture of preparedness within the community. The first objective that we have set for ourselves is to raise awareness, rather than replenish hardware. But, of course, both are necessary preconditions to ensure a high level of protection.”
Based on the success of this project and with UNICEF support, the Ministry of Education, Science, Sport and Culture included the “Safe School” programme in the state budget to incentivize schools to increase the level of preparedness. Through the two annual tenders, 15 schools have already received grants from public funds, with the purpose of upgrading safety infrastructure, including rehabilitation of shelters, erecting safety walls, and other tasks.
Eighty per cent of the public-school buildings in Armenia fail to comply with seismic construction norms and safety standards – 80 per cent… Let this sink in. Many disasters do not give a heads-up for you to know and prepare. It’s only through advance and regular preparedness activities, knowledge, and culture that you can protect yourself and the community.
This is today’s work. It simply cannot be put off to tomorrow.