WHO and UNICEF today called on governments to strengthen risk reduction measures in four key areas so that health and education systems are able to cope with disasters, including the risks from climate change. These areas are:
- Building school and health infrastructure according to disaster resilience standards;
- Conducting assessment of the safety of hospitals and schools and taking remedial action to make them safer;
- Ensuring all hospitals and schools implement emergency and disaster preparedness programmes, including staff training and exercises; and
- Educating, training and involving communities in disaster risk reduction.
WHO and UNICEF highlighted these issues during the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, a key gathering of the world's risk reduction community organized by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) in Geneva. The High Level Panel on Safe Schools and Hospitals, jointly organized by UNICEF, UNESCO, WHO and World Bank, covered the experience of France, Mexico, Philippines and Tajikistan in making hospitals and schools safer from disasters and emphasized the vital role that scientific evidence plays.
Disasters have a major health, educational, economic, physical, and psychosocial impact on the most vulnerable, notably children, women and aged persons. Disasters can destroy human lives and damage hospital and school infrastructure, disrupt educational cycles, exacerbate poverty, force children to drop out of school, and affect the resiliency of communities.
The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which caused some 240 000 deaths in Asian and African countries, raised global awareness about the importance of disaster risk reduction and emergency preparedness.
The massive earthquake that struck China's Sichuan province in 2008 left 88 000 people dead or missing, 400 000 injured, and 11 000 hospitals damaged or destroyed. Over 12 000 schools or 40% of all schools in Sichuan were damaged, resulting in thousands of children being killed or injured. These events highlight growing concern over the effects of disasters on education and health.
Protecting education, health essential
Risk reduction is imperative for both education and for health. It may be possible to build better after a disaster, but it is not possible to replace lost lives or to restore health completely.
Children are among the most at risk and around 175 000 children annually will be affected by disasters. In recent years, large numbers of schools have been destroyed by disasters resulting in the loss of lives of children and the stalling of access to education. Children also suffer from the psychosocial effects of disasters, thus hindering children's opportunities. Education protects lives and safeguards development gains.