By Farman Ali
ISLAMABAD, May 14: An international conference on school safety will start here on Thursday to discuss measures to reduce risk to life of school going children in a country like Pakistan which is situated in an earthquake zone of moderate to high risk seismic activity.
Experts in their two-day discussions will come up with recommendations and possible steps to improve the safety of around 180,000 schools and their nearly 23 million students across Pakistan.
“Realising that children in school are the most vulnerable in any disaster situation, the conference is organised to promote awareness on the issue”, said a press release issued by the organisers here on Wednesday.
The Aga Khan Planning and Building Service AKPBS-P) and Focus Humanitarian Assistance Pakistan (FOCUS-P), the two affiliate agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), have organised the conference in collaboration with Ministry of Education and nine other agencies, including three UN organisations.
Eight prominent speakers from abroad from among 19 countries attending the conference would cover six different themes including policy framework, technical aspects, capacity building, education, community preparedness and financing.
The conference supports the Pakistan Disaster Management Framework developed by NDMA as well as the International Hyogo Framework for Action which has been ratified by all major countries in the world.
Without safety measures, years of investment in building schools and educating children can be wiped out in seconds as was seen in the South Asia earthquake of 2005, when approximately 8,000 schools collapsed completely and over 18,000 children perished in the falling debris while attending school. The reconstruction cost of these destroyed school structures, by itself, is expected to be $480 million, apart from other social and emotional costs. There is a general agreement among experts that schools, during earthquakes, collapse because of lack of knowledge and policy for school site selection; inappropriate school structure design, poor construction quality, and use of substandard construction material. Existing technology and knowledge, however, can be applied in a cost effective manner to minimise risks to schools.
The eight foreign speakers expected in the conference include the head of the UN Inter-Agency Secretariat for International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), Salvano Briceno; Adviser to the Indian Government on Seismic Affairs, Prof Anand Arya; co-founder of the Global Coalition for Schools Safety Garry De la Pomerai; former Executive Director of the Asias Disaster Preparedness Centre, Thailand Earl Kessler; Chairman of Earthquake and Megacities Initiatives, USA Fouad Bendimerad; EC expert on Disaster Preparedness Indira Kulenovic; Dr M. Sohail Khan, Professor University of Loughborough, UK, NATO Science Prize Winner, Professor Polat Gulkin of METU, Turkey, and others.
Our Correspondent adds: FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance Pakistan and Aga Khan Planning and Building Services Pakistan along with other partners are organizing an International Conference on School Safety from 14th to 16th May 2008 in Islamabad. This conference is one of the events being arranged to mark the Golden Jubilee Year of His Highness the Aga Khan as 49th Imam of the ISmaili Muslims by the AKDN Institutions.
The conference will bring together experts, donors, philanthropist, media, legislators and media to debate the issue of school safety and will come up with a collective conference declaration and a pragmatic action agenda.