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UNICEF and partners teach children to protect themselves from natural disasters

By Rob McBride

ALMATY, Kazakhstan, 27 October 2011 – It is clear from the enthusiasm of the five- and six-year-old students in Kindergarten No. 53 that this lesson in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is the most popular of the week. Hands shoot up in response to questions about a disaster scenarios, the children eager explain the how to survive each situation.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on UNICEF and ECHO's support of Disaster Risk Reduction programmes at schools in Kazakhstan.  Watch in RealPlayer


And then, with the sudden blare of a siren, they have the chance to put their knowledge into action.

Instantly, the children dash beneath their desks and cover their heads, as they would if caught in an earthquake. After the all-clear signal indicates the quake has passed, they quickly and calmly file outside for a roll call.

“We have to get under the desks as quick as we can,” explained Sergei Novgorodov, after his class had returned indoors, showing that he and his classmates have mastered these life-saving lessons.

His friend, Sophia Akzhygitova, knew what else they had to do. “We have to hold onto the table with one hand and cover our head with the other arm. And stay away from windows.”

© UNICEF video
Children hide under a desk in as part of a Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) exercise in Almaty.

A country of extremes

Almaty is a region particularly prone to natural disasters. Towering mountain ranges here are snow-capped even at the height of summer, giving a sense of the country’s extreme geography and climate. These conditions leave children especially risk.

“Here in southern Kazakhstan, we are prone to earthquakes,” explained educator Lucia Kasenova. “And in spring and autumn, there’s a danger from landslides from the mountains nearby, so it’s important for the children to learn” to keep themselves safe.

This pilot programme aims to do just that, teaching children the skills to protect themselves against a variety of disasters, including the area’s frequent earthquakes and extreme cold.

Preparing for a ‘century of disasters’

At a meeting convened by UNICEF, Government officials and NGO partners agreed on the need for comprehensive DRR education, with an emphasis on the threats posed by global climate change.

© UNICEF video
Children at Kindergarten No. 5 studying Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) materials in Almaty.

“According to expert analysis, this will be the century of disasters,” said Syrym Gobbasov, Director of Strategic Planning from the Ministry of Emergency. “The only things we do not face here in Kazakhstan, are volcanoes, tsunamis and tornadoes. We have everything else.”

To prepare a generation of school children for these hazards, UNICEF and the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO) are working together with the Ministry of Emergency and the Ministry of Education and Science. In addition to launching the pilot programme in Almaty and South Kazakhstan, this collaboration has also trained thousands of teachers in DRR education.

Life-saving lessons

The effectiveness of this approach was on display at Almaty’s School No. 148, where students are taking part in DRR training even during summer recess. At their teacher’s command, the students crouched on the floor, covered their noses and mouths, and evacuated the room as though it were on fire. Orderly and efficient, the drill was a success.

A photo album at the school shows students undertaking many such drills, accompanied by children’s own accounts of the lessons they’ve learned. “It’s the best form of documentation,” said the school’s deputy head, Kazybek Akhmedjanov.

“I think it’s a fantastic programme,” said UNICEF Representative in Kazakhstan Hanaa Singer. “I saw the simulation. I saw the response of the children there, and I know we don’t only have to depend on the Government and the community, but we really can depend on the children also.”



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