A young student participates in tsunami preparedness drills, as part of the UNDP/Japan tsunami project.

 

History repeats itself. We only learn from our own mistakes. Experience is inevitable to make us better. How many times have we heard these idioms? If we were to believe them, we would be doing a huge disservice to human-kind. 

Today in a highly interconnected world we have the benefit of learning and adapting lessons and good practices from others. As we mark the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, perhaps what’s most remarkable is the generosity of Japan in helping other countries prepare for tsunamis, so as not to suffer from the same fate. Undoubtedly, the devastating event brought about a paradigm shift in disaster management policies in the country; particularly around building a culture of prevention and preparedness.

On the global stage, the World Tsunami Awareness Day became an opportunity to advocate for these key messages. In Asia and the Pacific, a region that has suffered from catastrophic tsunamis and other natural hazards, the Government of Japan partnered with the United Nations Development programme to raise awareness and preparedness in tsunami prone schools. Since 2017, over 160,000 students, teachers and school administrators from 330 schools in 23 countries have been trained in tsunami preparedness. 

Pacific is one of the most disaster-prone areas in the world and students in Fiji are preparing for tsunamis.

 

A key part of the preparedness programmes is the conduct of tsunami evacuation drills. While these are a regular feature for every student in Japan, for most schools in Asia Pacific it has been a unique learning experience, not just for the students but also the staff.

For some, it led to creation of new evacuation routes that were safer, for others, it meant ensuring that all essential items to carry out a drill were procured. By simulating the process, all schools were able to draft an evacuation plan that was tested and evaluated. Teachers and students that were asked after experiencing a drill all felt more confident on how they could respond to a tsunami warning. Based on the diversity of experiences, combined with practical steps to prepare for and conduct drills, UNDP produced the Regional Guide for Schools to Prepare for Tsunamis in 2019. 

Thai students participating in tsunami drills, as part of the project funded by the Government of Japan.

 

With schools across Asia and the Pacific closed for months at a time in 2020, COVID-19 brought new challenges to the school tsunami preparedness efforts. Two key issues emerged: preparedness needs to be multi-dimensional and engage whole of community. Travel restrictions in many places meant that children stayed at home or within their neighbourhoods. Evacuation shelters that would typically be overcrowded would need to follow safe hygiene and social distancing measures. Learning from Japan’s practices during COVID-19, Tsunami Evacuation During COVID-19: A Guide for School Administrators was produced to complement the regional guide.

It is easy to count the number of deaths due to disaster, but we will never know how many more lives we saved because of preparedness. Today let us reaffirm our commitment to these efforts and prepare to win lives

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The regional school tsunami project is funded by the Government of Japan and implemented by UNDP in Asia and the Pacific since 2017 in 23 countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Kiribati, Malaysia, Micronesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tuvalu and Viet Nam. 

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