Red Crescent of Uzbekistan increases communities' capacity in disaster response

Originally published
Assel Tastanova, Regional Delegation for Central Asia, Almaty

Four slender girls, 15 to16 years old, wearing white bibs with the Red Crescent emblem, rapidly remove overturned chairs and desks to clear the way to a person lying on the ground, motionless. Having reached him, they skillfully examine him for possible injuries, take out a first aid kit and quickly provide qualified first aid.

No, this is not a real earthquake. This is how practical exercises on disaster preparedness are conducted in the "9G" class of Tashkent secondary school n=B0195. It is one of 35 schools in the city where the community-based disaster preparedness programme of the Red Crescent Society of Uzbekistan is successfully implemented.

And it is the first school where disaster simulation exercises took place. After this initial experience, many other schools consulted school n=B0 195 on how to set up disaster preparedness exercises for schoolchildren. It has now become a kind of consultative center and Director Margarita Afanasienva is very proud of this.

"Our teachers of chemistry, biology and gymnastics were intensively trained by the Red Crescent on disaster preparedness and then passed their knowledge on to their pupils. In turn, the children deliver these messages to primary classes and to their parents," she explains.

"We have set up a special room where children can read relevant brochures, study posters and familiarize themselves with equipment. Evacuation plans are accessible to everyone on each floor of our school. In addition, the exercises prompted us to clear passageways and repair a door leading to a storage area, which will be important in case of a real earthquake."

Besides the Red Crescent Society, representatives of Tashkent's emergency and education departments support the school in preparing the simulation exercises. In fact, the education department is planning to increase the number of disaster preparedness trainers and to develop a disaster response plan.

Community-based disaster preparedness is a specific aspect of a disaster management programme which covers seven provinces of the country, with financial support from the International Federation. This community-based approach is a key element in reducing the impact of disasters and building a safer community. Therefore, the Red Crescent is also actively involving the inhabitants of local mahallyas (communities) in the disaster preparedness process.

In 2006, the Red Crescent conducted disaster preparedness (DP) workshops for community leaders in 21 communities. The leaders then worked with local inhabitants to create community disaster preparedness committees, organize workshops, and develop community DP plans.

The population living in the mahallya (community) of Buston, located on the outskirts of Tashkent city, near high-voltage lines and a road junction, is considered as one of the most vulnerable to hazards. Realizing this, people living in the mahallya asked the Red Crescent to run DP trainings for them and to raise their local response capacity in case of a disaster.

"People of our mahallya take a keen interest in security problems. We found out what expertise - such as medical knowledge, metalworker skills, etc - our neighbours have that might help in a crisis and then selected group leaders responsible for certain activities in case of disaster: first aid, information-sharing, rescue, public order, etc," says Yuldashkhozha Abdurahmanov, a community leader.

"The Red Crescent helped us not only with training, but also provided some equipment and supplies, such as spades, buckets, ropes, shovels, crow-bars and first aid kits."

In almost all communities, the most active members are women and elderly people. However, young people are attending the DP trainings and practical exercises so that they can pass what they learn on to people of their own age. Moreover, local businessmen are contributing to these activities by providing construction materials and equipment.

It is important that local communities consider disaster preparedness not only as a training activity, but also as an effective way of bringing community members together to address existing problems. People understand that the community is also responsible for its own protection and safety.