Risk reduction education in schools – and beyond – helps to build resilience

By Linda Low, IFRC

On the final day of the Global Platform, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Socieites convened a panel of experts in a special side event focussed on the power of education in reducing risk and thus increasing community resilience. Walter Cotte, IFRC Undersecretary General for Programme Services said: “Schools are centres of energy, creativity, families, communities; this is where we can start to really build resilience.”

This theme resonated throughout the session. Marla Petal, Senior Advisor on Education and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) at Save the Children, said that children had a right to education and safety, and that teachers could play a vital role in passing on disaster preparation messages to their students. Petal also said training had to take context into account, for example, in an urban setting it would be appropriate to suggest people have access to a fire extinguisher in the home, whereas in a rural setting it might be a bucket of water or sand. She closed by drawing attention to two IFRC resources that she recommends for all teachers with an interest in the subject: Public awareness and public education for disaster risk reduction and Community early warning systems: guiding principles.

Mohammad Abdul Wazed, Director General of the Department of Disaster Management with the Bangladesh government, said the authorities were attempting to promote resilience over response, an ideo encompassed in the slogan ‘know risks, no risks’. Disaster risk reduction is promoted in homes, workplaces and schools nationwide. School safety drills, e-learning opportunities and an annual International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction have all been used to build a national culture of resilience.

From the Armenian Red Cross Society, head of disaster management Edmon Azaryan offered an example of how teaching disaster risk reduction in schools can improve lives in families and communities. Non-structural mitigation is a theme in communities where there are fewer resources to bolster existing structures. One day, a major storm struck a region shattering windows in many homes. The next day, a family approached a Red Cross delegate and told him they had recently moved their daughter’s bed away from the window based on Red Cross advice. They were so moved because daughter was safe because of this simple risk reduction act.

The panel closed by discussing the importance of teaching young people risk reduction skills beyond the schoolhouse, to reach those unable to access formal education.