Earthquake Safe Communities in Nepal

Two-day "Students' Summit on Comprehensive School Safety" concludes with 7-point Surkhet Declaration

Schools in Nepal are highly vulnerable to earthquake and other hazards. School buildings are constructed haphazardly without incorporating earthquake resistant design or construction techniques. This is negatively impacting on over-all safety of students, teachers and community. Level of awareness and preparedness regarding the disaster risks among teachers, students and school management committee is also very poor. Nonetheless, some initiatives have been taken to reduce the risk and promote school safety since past two decades in Nepal.

To continue the past efforts and institutionalize the works accomplished so far, various efforts have been initiated aligning with the Government of Nepal’s School Sector Development Plan (2016-2023) which includes a focus on School Safety and Disaster Risk Reduction, by upgrading physical infrastructure to be more resilient and ensuring the curriculum and teacher training integrates disaster resilience. The two-day 'Students' Summit on Comprehensive School Safety 2019' concluded with 7-point declaration at Birendranagar, Surkhet on August 26, 2019, is another milestone step towards improving the safety.

The major objectives of the program were:

• Raising awareness and sensitizing the school students and teachers on comprehensive school safety;

• Learn about rich knowledge and experience of other countries

• Inter-school exchange of knowledge and experiences;

• Provide opportunity to set common goals and objectives on school safety and preparedness;

Chief Minister of Karnali Province, Mr. Mahendra Bahadur Shahi formally inaugurated the summit while various dignitaries including Mr. Dala Rawal, Social Development Minister of Karnali Province, Dr. Gangalal Tuladhar, Disaster Expert and former Minister for Education, Mr. Dev Kumar Subedi, Mayor of Birendranagar Municipality, Jaya Prasad Acharya, Under Secretary at Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Mr. Chudamani Paudel, Deputy Director General of Center for Education and Human Resource Development (CEHRD) among others.

The program was jointly organized by Ministry of Education Science and Technology, CEHRD, NSET, UKAID, UNOPS, UNICEF, Save the Children, NDRC, PLAN International, USAID, NRCS, WVI, NSSP, SAFER, British Red Cross, Teach for Nepal and EPSRC.

Addressing the program Chief Minister Shahi said that DRR has been high priority by his government as Karnali Province is vulnerable to hazards like Earthquakes and landslides. "The government has taken initiative to build integrated settlements to those who will be relocated from disaster risk zones," he said.

Mr. Dala Rawal, Minister for Social Development of Karnali Province, underscored the need of reducing the disaster risk of schools of Karnali province considering the sensitivity of the school sectors. "Children are overwhelmingly vulnerable to various types of disasters in comparison to other community. In order to ensure the safety of children and teachers, we are committed to make all schools resilient to disasters gradually." He further said that his government has prioritized the construction of earthquake resistant school building as well as retrofitting the schools that are vulnerable to disasters.

Dr. Ganga Lal Tuladhar stressed the need of implementing the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act (DRR&M) to ensure the rights of disaster safety of students and teachers. "We had to fight for long time to create appropriate DRR policies and law in the past. As we have got new DRR Act to guide our DRR activities and programs, its time to go for stringent implementation of the all," he said. He also urged local governments to work for ensuring the safety of schools and children.

Mr. Dev Kumar Subedi, Mayor of the Birendra Nagar Municipality, expressed his commitment to continue the efforts of building code implementation in the municipality. He also vowed to work for school safety and informed that retrofitting of existing vulnerable school buildings has already been started.

Mr. Surya Narayan Shrestha, Executive Director of NSET, welcomed the participants and highlighted the Nepal's disaster risk scenario. Presenting details about impact of 2015 Gurkha Earthquake, he also highlighted that impact of 2015 earthquake would have been far more worse in terms of loss of lives of students and teachers if the earthquake was occurred on the regular school day instead of Saturday. "Around 18,000 teachers and students lost their lives during the 2005 Pakistan Earthquake which struck Pakistan at around 9.30 am," he said.

Besides this, he further highlighted the good works that Nepal has done in regard to school safety. He said, "Nepal has done significant works on school safety. It has made progress in construction of new buildings, it has retrofitted around 300 public schools, awareness of teachers, students and other stakeholders has been enhanced through trainings and orientations and disaster preparedness has also significantly improved," he remarked.

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