For every child, safe environment to study
UNICEF worked with the Government of Armenia to develop disaster risk management plans, train teachers and students, and organize readiness drills in 200 schools across the country
The village of Nerkin Tsaghkavan lies on the north-eastern tip of Armenia, close to Georgia and just a mile or so away from Azerbaijan. Nestled in the wooded hills of Tavush region, the village enjoys a benign climate perfect for growing peach, figs and other fruits.
However, this peaceful and almost idyllic picture is marred by anxiety about disaster management. The local school was totally unprepared for a possible earthquake and other disasters until recently. Although the 1988 quake was not as destructive for the village as for the cities of Gyumri and Spitak, the people of Nerkin Tsaghkavan still recall the hardships. The situation was aggravated by the Nagorno Karabakh armed conflict in the early ‘90s. These circumstances made them fear for their lives and their families on a daily basis.
“We live in a village on the border, and we are concerned about the safety of our children every single day,” Lilit Temouryan, a village resident says. Her daughter goes to the local school.
By going to schools that do not meet seismic safety standards schoolchildren in Armenia risk their lives. In fact, 80% of schools in the country are rated ‘middle’ to ‘high risk’ for natural disasters. It means that the lives of 280,000 girls and boys in Armenia are potentially and constantly under threat. On top of all this, Armenia is among the sixty most disaster-prone countries in the world.
To help Armenia reduce disaster risks, UNICEF Armenia with support of UNICEF ECAR Regional office worked with the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Ministry of Education and Science in the past eight years to train teachers and students in over two hundred rural and remote schools across the country. Specifically, disaster risk management plans were developed with readiness drills organized, to minimize the consequences of natural disasters in schools.
With the support of UNICEF, the Crisis Management State Academy developed and disseminated more than twenty learning materials and other educational publications on disaster risk reduction (check out helpful materials here). Students and teachers of both schools and pre-schools prone to higher risk of natural disasters in four regions of Armenia contributed to the preparation of these publications.
“It is very important that students participated in the training. After all, these materials are developed for them, and they should be the ones to test, assess and use them,” UNICEF Disaster Risk Reduction Programme Officer, Tigran Tovmasyan says.
In 2013-2015, UNICEF supported the Government of Armenia to carry out a nationwide school seismic safety assessment to identify and prioritize most at risk schools located in most at risk areas. The results of assessment, in turn, led the Government to adopt the 2015-2030 program for Improving School Seismic Safety. The program aims to strengthen the 425 most vulnerable schools and ensure the safety of the children and staff there.
The principal of the Nerkin Tsaghkavan school, Davit Yolchyan, is optimistic about the results of the training and readiness drills that UNICEF organized in the school, “Children know which exits and evacuation routes are safer to use if an earthquake strikes. In the past, 80% of the school doors would open inward which created additional problems when running for an exit when an earthquake struck. Now all doors open outward. We didn’t have an alarm system; now it has been installed. The school also has evacuation route signs that weren’t there before.”
The school is now ready to face challenges. Speaking about the earthquake that struck the north-east of the country on May 5, 2018 the principal cracks a joke. “I don’t know whether we were lucky or not that the quake didn’t strike when the school was in session. A slight jolt would’ve been a good opportunity for us to test our readiness.”
Lilit is also optimistic. Her optimism stems from her experience as a member of the disaster risk management team. The team organizes disaster management training and readiness drills.
The fact that my child knows what to do the moment an earthquake strikes, is reassuring. She won’t panic. God forbid we use that knowledge. Anyway, the fact that she does know is great
Children are 14 times more likely to die during disasters. Lack of knowledge and panic make decision-making all the harder for children in life or health threatening conditions. That’s why training and drills are important for them. Ensuring the seismic safety of schools is increasingly important for each and every child to study, develop and live a fulfilling life in the future.
Even small steps can make a big difference to create a safe learning environment for children in Armenia. Absolutely everyone’s proactive investment and participation is of paramount importance - from individual citizens to members and ministers of the Government.