For every child, a safe environment to study

Reducing risks children face from earthquakes in Armenia

Tigran Zakaryan
 Children participating in preparedness drills in Nerqin Tsakhkavan border village.
UNICEF Armenia/2018/Malkhasyan

08 August 2018

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 climate that is perfect for growing peaches, figs and other fruits.

 

Border village of Nerqin Tsakhkavan, Tavush region, Armenia.
UNICEF Armenia/2018/Malkhasyan
Border village of Nerqin Tsakhkavan, Tavush region, Armenia.

However, this peaceful town faces constant risks due to natural disasters.

In 1988 Armenia experienced a deadly earthquake, and although Nerkin Tsaghkavan village was not as severely affected as other areas of the country, the people in the village still remember the very difficult time.

The situation was made worse by the Nagorno Karabakh armed conflict in the early 1990s. People living in the village say that during this time they were in constant fear for their lives and their families’ lives.  

“We live in a village on the border, and we are concerned about the safety of our children every single day,” said resident Lilit Temouryan. Lilit’s daughter attends the local school.

Until recently, the local school was completely unprepared for a natural disaster – which is not unique in Armenia.

Approximately 80 percent of schools in the country are rated ‘middle’ to ‘high risk’ for being affected by natural disasters, which puts 280,000 girls and boys at risk. Armenia is among the sixty most disaster-prone countries in the world.

Children participating in preparedness drills in Nerqin Tsakhkavan border village.
UNICEF Armenia/2018/Malkhasyan
Children participating in preparedness drills in Nerqin Tsakhkavan border village.

To help Armenia reduce disaster risks, UNICEF worked with the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Ministry of Education and Science over the past eight years to train teachers and students in over 200 rural and remote schools across the country. Specifically, disaster risk management plans were developed and readiness drills were organized to minimize the consequences of natural disasters in schools

With the support of UNICEF, the Crisis Management State Academy developed and shared more than 20 publications and other information materials on disaster risk reduction (including the information here).  Students and teachers in schools and pre-schools at highest risk of natural disasters in four regions of Armenia helped prepared the materials.  

“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,” said UNICEF Disaster Risk Reduction Programme Officer, Tigran Tovmasyan.

Between 2013 and 2015, UNICEF supported the Government of Armenia carry out a nationwide school seismic safety assessment to identify and prioritize the most at risk schools. The results of the assessment, led the Government to adopt the 2015 to 2030 program for Improving School Seismic Safety. The program aims to better prepare 425 schools to ensure the safety of the children and staff.

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.

A mother and daughter who live in Nerqin Tsakhkavan village in Armenia.
UNICEF Armenia/2018/Malkhasyan
A mother and daughter who live in Nerqin Tsakhkavan village in Armenia.

“Children know which exits and evacuation routes are safer to use if an earthquake strikes. In the past, 80 percent of the school doors would open inward which created additional problems when running for an exit when an earthquake struck. Now all the 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,” he said.   

It is estimated that children are 14 times more likely to die during natural disasters, so ensuring children living in areas at risk of these emergencies is essential.