Conflict zones are potential hazards. It is a persistent threat to humans who live in. Killings are spontaneous and insecurities are like shadows walking with you in and around. Kashmir is a whirlpool of uncertainties. Surviving in armed conflict and situation of discourse for decades is a miracle, life skill or God's blessing. Earth Scientists have put us in seismic zone - V, the mouth of earthquake monster. But we are already swallowed by the bigger monster; the killings, crushing and cramping couldn't shake the conscience of those who have put us in it. So watching and experiencing disasters without taking any concrete step to mitigate the effects has now been a normal phenomenon.
The resolution of the conflict is apparently a distant reality. A hope which can't be put in certain framework of time and space. So the prophecy of conflict continuity can easily be made. Challenges to survive are tough. Toughest challenge to survive at institutional level has been the Education at all levels. It is wrapped with vulnerabilities. Be it flood, earthquake, weather vagaries, fire, apart from the situational hazards, schools are susceptible to loss or damage.
Schools house the most vulnerable section of society, the children. Their safety and protection is the prime responsibility of state and society. If their custody is in safe hands, safe places, they will turn to be responsible custodian of our future. Safety culture in schools is lacking at the most. Knowledge and education can be the best ways to inculcate the sense of safety culture in schools. Schools in turn will disseminate the concepts and methods to be adopted before, during and after disasters in community. Children will educate their parents. They will deliver as ambassadors of safety culture not only in schools but also in their homes, neighbors, relatives, friends and the community as a whole.
Disasters can't be stopped but we can manage them. And if we analyze, there is hardly any natural disaster. At the most, there can be natural hazards or calamities. We have made them disasters by our disastrous attitude. And more disastrous is that we have no concept of preparedness to mitigate the loss and damage. Until yesterday, disaster management was not a concern at all.
Building structures are still posing a threat and involves a huge risk in most of the cases. Structural and non structural components are unnoticed hazards in our homes, offices, health and educational institutions. A planned retrofitting and mitigation is absolute necessity for building safety. There is a mass unawareness how to adopt measures for disaster risk reduction. The wisdom says that whatever can be done, is it a little thing, we must not ignore it before a hazard turns to be a disaster.
Construction of schools demands several measures to be analyzed before erecting them. Land use features, threat of any nearby potential hazard, architecture, materials to be used in laying a foundation, building of columns, erecting walls and laying slabs- all fall in structural components of a building. Once the building is ready we feel we are done now as all required measures are taken during construction. We still have a little knowledge about non structural measures which are equally important to reduce the risks of damage in case of any disaster.
Non structural components including interior fitting, furniture, doors, windows and all other items and articles in a school or for that matter in any building which are unknowingly placed loosely or wrongly. During emergencies, these little things fall off by little shaking and can create big hurdles in evacuation. Knowledge about all these things, generally ignored, constitutes a significant part of non structural measures. This is miserably missing in society and schools because it is yet to become a social discourse.
What needs to be evolved is a sense of safety in schools through leadership role to be taken by our teaching fraternity. Potentiality, a teacher can't be questioned in general. His/her resourcefulness to deliver beyond brackets needs only to be redirected and re-oriented.
At administrative level, disaster and its management is being taken for discussion and debate to gain the conceptual understanding. But, it has to ensure the trickle down impact and there is no time to wait. It needs to be popularized at mass level through workshops involving every school, every student and every teacher.
There are some natural calamities which don't necessarily knock you before they strike. So the training of pre-disaster preparedness to save life must be well in advance. How to face disasters and managing the post-disaster impact including the socio-psychological trauma needs to be understood and followed meticulously. The latter is still to become the part of rehabilitation. If trained, the teachers, emergency officials and students can prepare a school disaster management plan in advance to minimize the impact of natural and manmade disasters.
In an attempt to understand a standardized training framework on school safety and disaster risk reduction, this author has recently attended a workshop along with a fellow participant in New Delhi organized by National Institute of Disaster Management. The ideas being shared in the write up are indeed inspirational outcome of the workshop.
School safety if perceived rightly, is the safety of a child from home to school and return. Transport, walking on and crossing the roads, staying in classes, playing in grounds and so on- all included in safety ambit. Creating a safe environment for the children in schools and around must be the priority task given their vulnerability. Disasters strike their homes, families, food and their schools and education.
The biggest challenge is how to ensure continuity of educational institutions during relief and rehabilitation phase. We witnessed during October 2014 floods, there was no mechanism put in place to carry on the process of education. Resultantly, examinations were postponed and also mass promotions were granted up-to class 9th. This latter did tell upon their performance in next board examinations. But in the midst of all this, however, Assembly Elections were held in the state during relief and rehabilitation process reflecting the insignificant place of priority of education sector. We have still failed to comprehend that actualization of democratic institutions is not possible until education as an institution is prioritized at policy level.