Helping Kyrgyz children build their resilience to disasters
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 a series of stories on disaster preparedness through from countries in the region.
CHENGEN, Kyrgyzstan, 13 October 2011 — Around the Omurbaev household, as with the homes of their neighbours in the village of Chengen in southern Kyrgyzstan, the sights and sounds of the continuing clear up were everywhere.
Less than two weeks after a massive mudslide ripped through here claiming scores of homes, the memory of it was still intensely painful for 10 year old Ruslan Omurbaev and his three brothers and sisters.
“The flood took everything; my toys, my books,” said Ruslan, his voice trembling. “And it still gives me bad dreams.”
He described in detail how the normally dry river bed in front of their house became a raging torrent of mud and water following torrential rains, and how it suddenly surged over its banks, inundating their homes.
“I was away at the time,” said Zhumash Omurbaev, his Grandfather. He went on to explain how the terrified grandchildren, and their great grandmother had to be rescued from the windows at the back of the house, as the flood was surging through the front. Luckily, no-one in the village died in the flood, but its speed and ferocity was a frightening reminder of how prone this part of Kyrgyzstan is to disasters.
Driving through the deep ravines and gorges of the mostly arid Batken region of the country’s south west corner, it is easy to see how sudden rains can produce flash floods.
In the neighbouring district in the village of Jany Bak, the lesson in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) at the local ‘Schoola’ kindergarten was particular poignant for the teacher, Nurgul Karaeva. Just a week earlier, her two teenage nephews were killed in a flood in the nearby mountains.
“Children between 3 and 5 really absorb this information and even tell their parents what to do,” she said. “If those two boys who died had known what to do, maybe they would have survived.”
This is a community living with the daily dangers posed by powerful rains and winds. Global climate change can potentially influence the severity and frequency of such weather events.
It is also a region that is frequented by earthquakes, the most recent of which, a powerful tremor in late July, measured more than 7 on the Richter scale and left hundreds of people homeless. Across the border in neighbouring Uzbekistan, 13 people died.
Lessons in DRR implemented by UNICEF in conjunction with Government and NGO partners are designed to build a culture of safety which becomes sustainable.
The programme is supported by DIPECHO under the European Commission`s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department.
“This is something very new for us,” explained Abdilaziz Zaitov, Head of District Education Department. “Before children would run out panicking during an emergency. But now they know exactly what to do.”
Children at the kindergarten in Jany Bak, had just finished an evacuation drill, overseen by their teacher, Nurgul Karaeva. Now they were outside in the school yard, practicing how to respond to storm-force winds that are generated by the extreme climate.
In the kindergarten of the neighbouring village, the lessons in DRR are particularly relevant for Aijan Abdykarimova, aged 5 years. Her walk home from school, takes her across a dry river bed that becomes a torrent in heavy rains. “
When we see the flood,” she explained confidently, “We have to run for home and be with our parents. Because the flood is bad and it can take you away.”
It is planned that the same training for 3 to 7 year olds will be extended to all pre-schools in Kyrgyzystan, so those most vulnerable in disasters, will learn how to behave in emergencies.
“The most vulnerable during a disaster, are the young people and elderly,” said Islam Misiraliev, Head of Batken District Emergency Situations Department.
Preparedness into practice
With the right training, though, those same children can become an asset in times of need.
Back at the village of Ruslan Omurbaev, everyone was busy with the continuing clean up. As they toiled in the heat, dragging bucket loads of mud out of their homes, their temporary tented shelters stood next to piles of electrical appliances, clothes and books, drying out in the sunshine.
In a neighbouring house, 16-year-old Bolot Aziretkulov and his grandmother managed to escape from their home and help others get out, thanks largely to what Bolot had seen on television.
“I knew we had to get to higher ground because that’s what the TV emergency announcements tell you.”
In doing so, he managed to lead not only his grandmother to safety but also some of his neighbour’s children.
Part of a generation growing up facing greater potential dangers in their homelands and being equipped with the skills needed to deal with them.
What we do
International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction