Editorial: Learning from disaster

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

IF you’ve complained about the heat these recent weeks, imagine the schooldays that await thousands of children in communities still recovering from the twin disasters of late 2013.

In 15 northern Cebu towns, about 2,100 classrooms need to be repaired or replaced.

Work has started in some areas, thanks to the help and resources of private sector groups and some public employees. But much of the repairs will not be completed yet by the time classes resume in early June.


The challenge of building safe schools, however, predates Yolanda and the M7.2 quake that shook the Visayas. Three years before these struck, an international alliance of lawmakers had asked governments to check that schools, hospitals and other critical public facilities were resilient to earthquakes, floods and storms.

Apparently, schools in many developing countries were so poorly built or maintained that two-thirds of what the World Bank spent each year to build schools—about US$6 billion—went “to replace classrooms that were literally falling down.”

Entire communities paid a heartbreaking price for shoddy workmanship on school buildings. Three earthquakes that struck between 2005 and 2010, in Kashmir, Sichuan and Haiti, knocked down an estimated 21,000 school buildings.

Nearly 65,000 school children died in those disasters.

Imagine if it had not been a public holiday when that earthquake shook Bohol and Cebu awake last Oct. 15. Or if early warnings about Yolanda had not compelled school officials and parents to keep the children at home last Nov. 8.

What the education department and other government agencies have so far failed to show in speed, they must make up for in quality, as they continue to replace or retrofit our schools. Merely rebuilding vulnerability will not do, especially since schools will probably continue to serve as evacuation centers when the next natural hazard comes.

“Building standards for schools are not providing an acceptable level of protection for children,” the UN International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction warned long before 2013.

Will we ever learn, or will we ignore that warning still?

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 21, 2014.


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