Helping children understand the different kinds of disasters and impact

09 Jul 2009

A group of school-children gathered excitedly around the fiercely burning pile in the middle of the courtyard. At a nod from the trainer, one of the students grabbed a large fire extinguisher and set about dousing the growing flames-inexpertly at first but with growing confidence as he watched the flames go down.

The fire-drill was part of the awareness workshop for children organized jointly by UNDP, and the Disaster Management Centre (DMC). Funded by the International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (ISDR), the workshop invited about 200 school children from Kalutara, Gampaha and Colombo districts. Schools were selected based on the prevalence of natural disasters including floods and landslides in the area.

The programme began with a discussion on floods, cyclones, droughts, coastal hazards and landslides, their impact and ways of coping with the events. Most children were familiar with the different kinds of disasters and their impact. What they were not so familiar with the ways to mitigate the impact of the disasters and how best to react to the situation. The trainers gave practical advice, which the children along with their parents and communities could easily implement in their schools, homes and communities to reduce the occurrence and impact of disasters. For example, to help meeting the challenges of drought, the children were encouraged to store water in ground water, rainwater tanks or creating surface water catchments in their school compounds and communities and start their own home-gardens with water conservation techniques. The trainers also discussed action-plans for disaster situations with the children. For instance, how best to react in case of a fire or a flood. Most of the students had never received any training on ways to deal with such events. Ranjith, a student from Homagama Central College, especially enjoyed the training since his village is frequently affected by floods. ‘Now I can tell my other schoolmates and villagers about possible ways to react in a flood situation’. Minoli, a student of Grade 12 in the same school, added that it would be useful to have this kind of training in her school and village community so that others could also benefit from the information shared.

After the morning session the focus moved to practical demonstrations. Stalls were set up in the compound which focused on basic first-aid training and CPR, emergency medical procedure for victims. The Meteorological Department and the National Building Research Organization (NBRO) also explained to the children the occurrence of lightning, landslide and fire hazards through models.

Students found the practical training session on firefighting by the Colombo Fire Brigade especially useful. The trainers used different kinds of fire extinguishers and demonstrated to the children ways to prevent the fire from spreading. Pratheep Kumar, a student of Grade 12 at the Colombo Hindu College, explained ‘My house is very close to Tarawatta, which experiences frequent outbreaks of fire. Every year Tarawatta residents lose their lives and properties due to the occurrence of fire. The training makes me feel more confident about dealing with a fire situation next time’.

Dr. Ananda Mallawatantri, Assistant Resident Representative UNDP, described the project as an ‘investment in the future’ since the programme encouraged children to involve themselves in efforts to reduce disasters through proper understanding.

The success of the one-day awareness programme has led UNDP and DMC to consider ways of replicating the event in schools, communities and public gatherings across the country.