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Monday, January 30, 2017 - 14:31

Cambodia is considered to be one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to natural disasters[1] and schools play a major role in preparing communities for when disaster strikes.

“We often have problems with floods in our school,” says 10-year-old Thorn Sonisa. “And then we have to go to the high building to be safe,” she adds, pointing to a large classroom on stilts at her primary school in the southern town of Kampot.

Many children at Hunsen 1 Makara School recall the catastrophic floods of 2013 and 2011 which claimed 418 lives and affected more than 1.5 million people across the country.

“Kampot is prone to floods, high winds and droughts which create serious hazards for schools and communities,” explains Vannak Min, Early Warning System Officer at ActionAid Cambodia.

ActionAid, along with partners DanChurchAid and People in Need, is implementing a European Union-funded Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) project in the region entitled “Building Disaster Resilient Communities” which includes a strong focus on schools. 

Children from Hunsen 1 Makara and 13 other schools in Kampot and Phnom Penh are becoming enthusiastic ambassadors for potentially life-saving DRR messages that they pass on to their families.                                    

File 36668Classroom on stilts

“What do you do when you’re in a storm with lots of lightening? Do you shelter under a tree!?” asks an upbeat trainer at a DRR School Days event in November, aimed at boosting awareness of disaster preparedness among students, teachers, parents and the wider community.  

“No! Go inside!” the children roar back, clutching posters they’ve designed about what to do in the event of a disaster at school.

Their school is one of the first in the province to have fully trained staff, ready to put the school’s new Emergency Preparedness Response Plan (EPRP) into operation at the first sign of a dangers flood or storm.    
File 36669Students spread DRR message


In September 2016 ActionAid and a local NGO -- the Centre for Children and Women Development in Cambodia (CWDCC) -- began training provincial education officials and school directors as trainers. They have since passed on their knowledge to teaching staff who in turn are raising awareness among their students.

“When there are floods, I tell my parents to put our food, water and medicine safely upstairs. They do that and they tell our neighbors too,” says Thorn Sonisa.

School Director Mok Chaleam proudly offers a tour of the schoolyard and points out recent changes made in line with the EPRP -- including concrete pavements replacing mud paths, new flood drains and a building perched high on stilts: the school’s “safe place”.                                          

File 36670School Director Mok Chaleam

“This school has always had problems with disasters and parents have been worried about their children’s safety during floods,” he explains, adding that school days were lost in the past due to inaccessible classrooms.

“Now we have a plan to resolve that and to ensure the kids have a safe place and a proper escape route when the water rises.”

Mr. Nget Savoevn, Director of the Provincial Committee for Disaster Management, echoes a lesson that many of the school children have learned: that everyone needs to learn disaster survival skills.

“Disaster risk reduction activities are for all of us,” he told students and teachers, adding that DRR School Days was a “truly significant contribution to disaster risk reduction, both for communities and schools”.

[1] Cambodia ranks 9th in the UN University World Risk Index