When the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, it caused the total or partial collapse of more than 2,000 schools and damaged over 5,000 schools. The massive disruption caused by the earthquake and aftershocks on school infrastructure has reverberated into children’s development.
This tragedy is not an exception – each year natural disasters around the world have had devastating effects on children’s education. Typhoon Haiyan damaged more than 2,500 schools and affected 1.4 million children in the Philippines in 2013. The recent floods in Malawi affected hundreds of schools, disrupting the education of more than 350,000 children.
Over the last decade, multilateral and bilateral development finance institutions, United Nations agencies, and nongovernmental organizations have been engaged in efforts to make schools more resilient to disasters. Despite these efforts, the safety of schools in many disaster-prone countries is largely unknown, and governments and donors continue to finance new school construction without taking safety into account. In Nepal, for instance, poor enforcement of building standards and insufficient technical supervision had led to very poor construction practices in some areas and very vulnerable education buildings. This raises a number of questions:
- Why are so many schools around the world vulnerable to the impact of natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes?
- How have some countries managed to ensure the safety of students and teachers and to avoid disruption of educational services, while others have not?
- What can be done to help countries adopt a systematic approach to ensuring school infrastructure safety?
An innovative partnership-based approach
The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) recently launched the Global Program for Safer Schools (GPSS) to help answer these questions, and better protect students in vulnerable countries.
This new initiative is working to ensure that school facilities and the communities they serve become more resilient to natural hazards by reducing the physical impact of disasters on school infrastructure. The initiative works with ministries of finance, public works, and education, to integrate risk considerations into new and existing education investments to increase resilience on a large scale.