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Disaster Risk Reduction training helps build a culture of safety in Kyrgyzstan

By Rob McBride

CHENGEN, Kyrgystan, 9 November 2011 - In the village of Chengen in southern Kyrgyzstan, the sights and sounds of the continuing clean-up are everywhere. Less than two weeks after a massive mudslide ripped through here, claiming scores of homes, the memory of it is still intensely painful for 10-year-old Ruslan Omurbaev and his three brothers and sisters.

UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on the state of disaster risk reduction after damaging floods in Kyrgyzstan.  Watch in RealPlayer


“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. 

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. 

Lessons in Disaster Risk Reduction

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 three and five 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. It is also a region that is frequented by earthquakes, the most recent of which, a powerful tremor in late July, measured more than 6 on the Richter scale and left hundreds of people homeless.  Across the border in neighboring Uzbekistan, at least 13 people died.

© UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/2011
Lessons in DRR are particularly relevant for five-year-old Aijan Abdykarimova, as her walk home from school takes her across a dry river bed that becomes a torrent during heavy rains.

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 The European Commission Humanitarian Aid department’s Disaster Preparedness Programme DIPECHO under the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Department(ECHO)/

“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.”

Greater potential dangers

In the kindergarten of the neighbouring village, the lessons in DRR are particularly relevant for five-year-old Aijan Abdykarimova.  Her walk home from school, takes her across a dry river bed that becomes a torrent during 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 training for children aged three to seven will be extended to all pre-schools in Kyrgyzystan, so that they 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. “With the right training, though, those same children can become an asset in times of need.”

In Kyrgyzystan, a new generation is growing up facing greater potential dangers in their homelands than ever before. Lessons in Disaster Risk Reduction are going a long way to help equip young people with the necessary skills to protect them from avoidable tragedy.



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