By Farman Ali
ISLAMABAD, May 15: Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sherry Rehman has called for strengthening partnership between government and civil society in devising specific protocols to ensure construction of safer buildings in Pakistan and in the region.
“There is a scope to improve as long as we can all forge partnerships and work together. It is also our mandate to provide shelter to the people and we now add the new terminology of safer shelters or safer buildings,” she said, while speaking at a two-day international conference on school safety, at Serena Hotel.
Ms Rehman said that for building a hospital or school, precise information and historical data on intensity of earthquakes that had occurred within a radius of 300km should be collected. “We need to take concrete steps to ensure that our children are safe in the schools and our rural women are safe in their homes,” the minister said.
Emphasizing the importance of a massive awareness drive, she said: “It is high time that big builders are brought under a confederation which keeps updating their knowledge about the advantages of earthquake-resistant buildings.”
Appreciating the efforts of the AKDN agencies for organizing the conference, the minister hoped that experts would share best practices and knowledge and submit a set of concrete recommendations for the government, private sector and other stakeholders.
She requested the Aga Khan Development Network to commit its expertise and human resources to ensuring the safer constructions of not only schools but also hospitals in Pakistan.
Earlier in his introductory remarks, Iqbal Walji, president of Aga Khan National Council for Pakistan, said that the conference would provide an opportunity for collaboration between stakeholders to develop a pro-active approach in designing integral policies for safer, seismic-resistant schools.
The conference has been sponsored by The Aga Khan Planning and Building Services (AKPBS-P) and Focus Humanitarian Assistance, Pakistan (FOCUS-P), the two affiliate agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), in collaboration with Ministry of Education and nine other agencies, including three UN organizations 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.
The experts in their discussions will cover six different themes including policy framework, technical aspects, capacity building, education, community preparedness and financing and will come up with recommendations and steps to improve the safety of around 180,000 schools and their nearly 23 million students across Pakistan.
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 October 2005, when approximately 8,000 schools collapsed completely and over 17,000 children perished (about 23% of the total deaths), and over 20,000 children suffered serious injuries in the falling debris while attending school.
The rebuilding 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.
Pakistan falls in a seismically active zone with more then 50 percent of the population living in high seismic activity area. A potential threat of similar disasters exist in various regions of Pakistan, such as Northern Areas, Kashmir, Balochistan, North West Frontier Province, and parts of Sindh and the Punjab with approximately 30,000 schools located in similar seismically active zones.
Existing technology and knowledge, however, can be applied in a cost effective manner to minimize risks to schools.