International community pushes disaster risk education in Myanmar

With earthquakes, flooding and cyclones an ever-present danger, the importance of DRR or Disaster Risk Reduction education is growing in importance in Myanmar


Damaged Buddha statues in Tarlay on 26 March 2011 after the 6.9 magnitude earthquake hit in eastern Shan State. Photo: Mizzima

Children can be “agents of change”. This is the message behind the efforts of a number of NGOs tasked with raising awareness of the dangers posed by earthquakes and other natural disasters, and how to react in an emergency.

NGOs say there is a need for greater awareness on disaster risk, including the risks posed by earthquakes, particularly in urban areas, and one way of doing this is by integrating Disaster Risk Reduction or DRR into the education system.

DRR in education has multiple benefits including helping to keep children safe in schools – for example, if there is an earthquake during school hours - but also in building the capacity of children to be “agents of change” in spreading disaster awareness and preparedness messages to other children, parents and their wider communities. In simple terms, using children can have a multiplier effect, allowing a message to be sent out exponentially.

Plan Myanmar, the Myanmar branch of Plan International, is one of many organizations in Myanmar and under the DPRE Working Group that is reaching out to children to spread the need to be prepared for disasters. The NGO is currently working with 96 schools to carry out school-based DRR activities.

As part of this process, they have also set up School Disaster Management Committees in these schools, in partnership with local communities.

The NGO is now implementing this programme in Rakhine State, and also provides technical support in the Ayerawaddy Delta region for school-based DPRE or Disaster Preparedness and Response Education and child centre-based DPRE, according to Phyo Haymar Mar Than Htun, Resilience Specialist at Plan Myanmar. Earthquake awareness is part of their focus on “multi-hazards” – that includes how to react to the danger posed by flooding and cyclones.

Currently their earthquake education is provided in lessons to students in English.

“More preparations and plans for the earthquake lessons are needed especially on faultlines,” she said.

Phyo Haymar Mar Than Htun said the lessons are expected to provide specific information for children, allowing them to understand the risks and better protect themselves from the negative effects of earthquakes.

So far Plan Myanmar has launched different projects on a community, ministry and national level. The organization is now focusing on schools in the townships.

“Township education officers and teachers are invited to participate in the workshop to share their experience, responsibilities and risks, and then they can guide and provide information for teachers in their respective areas,” she said, noting they carry out workshops including useful exercises to test trainees in their knowledge of how to react if a natural disaster strikes. 

Since November 2008, Plan International in partnership with UNESCO, has been an active contributor to DRR education in Myanmar. UNESCO MERP or Myanmar Education Recovery Programme, the first programme directly implemented by UNESCO in Myanmar, trained 2,130 school principals and teachers in DRR education in eight Cyclone Nargis affected townships in the Ayeyarwady Division and Yangon Division.

According to UNESCO, DRR Education takes into account the relationships between society, environment, economy, and culture and their impacts. It also promotes critical thinking and problem-solving as well as social and emotional life skills that are essential to the empowerment of groups threatened or affected by disasters.

In Myanmar, UNESCO MERP has developed and promoted Module 7, a community-based disaster training especially for the teachers, including how to ensure school safety and DRR schooling education. “But the Module 7 needed to be reviewed because some of the module was not conducted (correctly),” Phyo Haymar Mar Than Htun told Mizzima.

Meanwhile, a disaster preparedness resource pack has been developed by the DPRE Working Group convened by UNESCO. The group has translated, adapted and localized the resource pack into three editions, with some online and radio materials included in the latest version.

Both UNESCO and Plan Myanmar’s education programmes work in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and relevant departments including the Department of Basic Education. “They are responsible for the practice and development of school safety,” Phyo Haymar Mar Than Htun said, noting the need for good communications between the NGOs and the government departments.

Research education

A local organization has long been promoting education regarding the dangers posed by earthquakes. Myanmar Earthquake Committee (MEC), a non-profit organization founded in 1999, aims to develop knowledge in the areas of earthquake science and engineering for Myanmar.

Saw Htwe Zaw, Secretary of the Committee, told Mizzima that they now have one project in collaboration with the Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS), a Singaporean centre researching earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and climate change in and around Southeast Asia. The project started about three years ago.

“Two lines of GPS stations have been built to monitor earthquakes in Myanmar, and more are planned in future,” he said.

Based on Yangon University campus, MEC conducts its own education programme mainly on earthquake science and engineering. Experts also gather to assess hazards and draw up plans to limit the damage caused by earthquakes.

The efforts of MEC and Plan Myanmar, and a host of other organization in Myanmar and under the DPRE Working Group, are helping prepare children and adults for the inevitable natural disasters. Yet more remains to be done, particularly on earthquake risk and earthquake preparedness.

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