Investing in schools saves lives, but needs help

Investing in schools saves lives, but needs help

Asia-Pacific is the most disaster-prone region in the world, and among those most affected are children and young people.

From typhoons to earthquakes, droughts to tsunamis, with fewer resources, limited time and capacity to prepare, children and youth are particularly vulnerable.

This is our future generation, our next leaders in the region. If we want to support children and young people, ensuring they are safe, prepared and protected for the next disaster, we need to invest in their education and in the place where they are most commonly found: their schools

Children spend up to 50% of their waking hours in school facilities. A school should be a safe haven for children and a collective area to learn with their peers and classmates. A student should never have to worry whether their school is fit for safety or can withstand the next disaster -- but the realities are grim.

The 2015 Nepal earthquakes damaged and destroyed some 8,200 public schools, leaving 870,000 children without permanent classrooms. The unfathomable thought crosses my mind when I think what would have happened had the earthquake happened on a weekday, when hundreds of thousands of children were at school.

But it's not just major disasters that impact a child's education. Across Southeast Asia, fires, floods and strong winds can also damage schools and teaching resources.

When schools are damaged or destroyed, hundreds of thousands of children are unable to resume their education. Yet despite these statistics, little investment is made in education for humanitarian responses -- just 1 to 2%.

By investing in schools, we are building a generation of prepared, resilient children. But we cannot go about this alone.

Schools in Asia have become a pillar for safety and preparedness, but when we talk about preparedness, I am not just referring to structural safety, I am also referring to learning, awareness raising, practices and education.

How would things change if we focused on schools and education before, during and after a disaster?

Realising the importance of strengthening disaster management in the region and achieving the sustainable development goals, Asean governments have endorsed and initiated the Asean Safe Schools Initiative, aiming to develop, expand and scale up school safety in the region.

Supporting Asean member states, organisations like Plan International are building disaster-resilient schools, training teachers and government officials and encouraging students to develop evacuation routes and safety procedures -- building an overall culture of safety and preparedness.

In countries like Myanmar, we are is working with students to set up early warning task forces and first aid teams in schools. Children are taught how to develop school evacuation maps should a disaster strike.

We are committed to raising a new generation of risk-aware citizens: empowered, secure and confident youth -- that when equipped with information, knowledge and resources -- can help make their schools and communities safer and more resilient places.

Investing in school safety is not only the ethical thing to do, it's the smart thing to do. Organisations like Plan International are working hand-in-hand with governments across Asia to make this a standard of practice, ensuring investments and resources are built-in to national education planning.

Asean governments come together in Bangkok this week to discuss the progress made in their country with regards to school safety.

The outcomes from this regional meeting should influence decision making at the country level to promote safe learning environments for children.

Southeast Asia will continue to face its fair share of disasters. We must shift our way of thinking, and see the valuable role children and young people can play to build disaster resilient communities.

And what better way to start than by investing in their schools, and forging partnerships to protect and promote a child's right to an education?

Senait Gebregziabher is Regional Director for Plan International in Asia.

Senait Gebregziabher

Regional Director for Plan International in Asia

Senait Gebregziabher is Regional Director for Plan International in Asia.

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