When disasters strike, children bear an excessive share of its devastating effect. Along with women, children are 14 times more likely to die than men in case of disasters. In the next decade, it is estimated that approximately 175 million children will be affected by disasters annually.
Armenia is one of the most disaster prone countries in the South Caucasus region. In the recent years, the Armenian Government partnered with UNICEF and international organizations to promote community resilience through education. From 2015-2016, with the funding of the EU, UNICEF and its implementing partners, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) National Platform and World Vision Armenia, worked with two public schools in Ashtarak and Stepanavan cities to integrate education about DRR in the curricula and community practice.
Together with school administration and direct engagement of students, partners developed a community based approach to preparedness against hazards, using various web-based and offline tools. Children were able to learn about disaster risks using maps for spatial information, GPS system data for geographical information, and review the history of each hazard. Interactive classroom instruction was combined with web-based technologies and fieldwork.
As a result, students learned how to adjust spatial maps of their districts and the city based on mapping of existing local hazards and risks. They also learned how to identify community “hot spots” and vulnerabilities and properly reflect those in the electronic open source map and the EU-supported Electronic Regional Risk Atlas, using the GPS. These spots were then hyperlinked in the online map with relevant information on safety.
Students from both schools reported that after these activities they are now better aware of existing risks and pay greater attention to safety in the surrounding environment. They learned not only what to do at times of disasters, but also how to prevent man-made disasters and be better prepared for the natural ones. The project created a very hands-on experience for every child in the school, including children with disabilities who were involved in the design and roll-out of school activities.
Some of the activities that students found most fun and engaging included identifying risks and the impact of natural disasters during field trips, learning about disasters via open safety platforms, looking at different disaster scenarios, and examining the surroundings through technologies, such as GPS, OpenStreetMap and other GIS tools.
These efforts demonstrated how community resilience towards disasters can be strengthened through education. The interactive learning tools, OpenStreetMap, GeoTracker and open safety platform, are designed in a way that can be replicated by other schools. Moreover, these tools can be equally useful for academic institutions in Armenia and the region.
UNICEF continues to advocate for safety for every child. At the moment, our programmes focus on strengthening national strategies and implementation mechanisms for schools safety. In collaboration with the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, UNICEF supports the Government of Armenia in developing new guidelines for school retrofitting based on international building codes.
UNICEF also supports the Ministry of Education to develop an online module on school safety and a safety map, which policy makers and school administrators can use to identify gaps, develop safety plans and do risk informed school budgeting.