The heart-rending pictures and videos from the earthquake-tsunami disaster in Sulawesi, Indonesia brought back the shock and pain of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami disaster of 2011 and the Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster of 2004. Working with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Country Office in India, and their Disaster Risk Management team, I had a first-hand experience of the harrowing Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster in December 2004. The images that captured the scale and magnitude of death and devastation were extremely traumatizing for long and one hoped that people should never have the bad luck of re-visiting such nightmarish experiences again. But then the recent earthquake-tsunami in Sulawesi, Indonesia proved otherwise.
It seems that while the global community’s efforts to reduce mortality are proving considerably effective with timely and enhanced early warnings, evacuations etc., the exposure and vulnerabilities of people, communities and socio-economic development assets continues to increase exponentially. This is particularly true of earthquake-tsunami disasters as the early warning and response window is quite narrow and virtually unpredictable. Experience from past disasters indicates that more investments in reducing risks (through focused attention on minimizing exposure and reducing vulnerabilities) and increasing preparedness levels are the most effective antidotes to avoid repetition of the tragic loss of lives, livelihoods and development assets.
Recognizing this imperative, UNDP, supported by the Government of Japan, initiated the Strengthening School Preparedness for Tsunamis in the Asia-Pacific Region project across 18 countries in the Asia-Pacific region to better prepare coastal communities especially the most vulnerable like school children and marginalized groups like women, elderly and differently abled students. Taking the local school as the center of activity, the objective was to scale out the information to the community at large and ensure the longevity and sustainability of the interventions. Training and preparing the teachers and school students so that schools continue to lead preparedness awareness, education and practical drills and to ensure that students, year after year, are well prepared.
Rajeev Issar is a Policy Specialist in the Global Climate Risks and Risk Governance team, UNDP