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A priority in climate change adaptation

by Muhammad Ishaq-ur-Rahman

Rescue workers line up computer monitors and accessories recovered from the debris of a school damaged by cyclone Sidr.— New Age photoRescue workers line up computer monitors and accessories recovered from the debris of a school damaged by cyclone Sidr.— New Age photo

ON AVERAGE a major flood occurs every four to five years, and a severe tropical cyclone hits Bangladesh every three years (BCCSAP 2009). No month in the disaster calendar of Bangladesh is free from risk and 46 out of its 64 districts are prone to all types of disasters. Natural disasters are causing massive humanitarian crisis and significant impact on the country’s budget through incurring huge recovery cost. When these environmental mishaps are affecting the overall socio-economic condition of the country, the damage to education services caused by disasters happens to last much longer than the storms themselves. On average 900 schools are devastated each year by natural disasters, especially flood and cyclones (StC 2010). In between 1971 to 2007, over 120,000 primary schools were damaged by floods and 50,000 by cyclones and during 2007-2009 education of more than 1.5 million children were disrupted particularly by cyclones. The government had to allocate Tk 11,196 million in just three years — 2004 to 2007 — as recovery cost (UNICEF Bangladesh 2010). UNICEF reported in 2011 that about 9,000 of Bangladesh’s 82,000 primary schools have been affected since 2007. What is more to the ongoing trend of these disasters in Bangladesh, it has been recognised as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change effect by both the scientific and negotiating community and in future it is likely to face more frequent climatic adversities (Bangladesh NAPA 2005). This, on the other hand, means Bangladesh is exposed to more disruption in its education system.
As the government and other stakeholders have developed and continually working towards developing appropriate climate change adaptation policy and programmes for the country, it is time to incorporate the theme ‘education in emergency’ as a priority in this effort in order to focus on education during emergency situations in an era of increased environmental turmoil.
The Save the Children Alliance Education Group (2001) defined education in emergency as ‘education that protects the well-being, fosters learning opportunities, and nurtures the overall development (social, emotional, cognitive, and physical) of children affected by conflicts and disasters’ (Sinclair, 2002). The theme of ‘education in emergencies’ has received prominent attention since 1990 in connection with the concept of ‘complex humanitarian emergencies’, situations that are ‘man made’ and are often caused by conflicts or civil unrest. Further to ‘complex emergencies’, the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies defines emergencies along another dimension — ‘natural disasters’ that include, among others, hurricanes/typhoons, earthquakes, droughts and floods (Kamel, 2006).
Emergency, regardless its types, i.e. man-made, natural or occurred otherwise, causes diverse humanitarian crisis. But crisis for food, shelter, health and livelihood among all are seen to be addressed by preparedness and response effort immediately and thoroughly, education remains as an afterthought. Recognition of this fact through different forum by the worldwide education sector stakeholders increasingly stressed upon need for providing educational response in emergency and reconstruction settings. Thus although the 1990 Jomtian World Conference on Education for All pointed the issue first, it is believed to be making only limited reference to education in emergencies when the World Education Forum held at Dakar in April 2000 is credited for putting education in crises on the international agenda successfully.
Climate change ‘adaptation’ is as important as the other main human response to climate change i.e. ‘mitigation’; however, adaptation to the already existent impacts from climate change so far is essential and of critical importance because even imposing the toughest mitigation efforts and targets won’t be able to avoid further impacts of climate change in the next few decades (NCCARF 2012). ‘Education’ despite being dubbed as the backbone of a nation and recognised as one of the most significant human rights tend to attract inadequate focus at a period of crisis which makes educational system, especially pre-primary, primary and secondary, to suffer large scale devastation and irregularity in any emergency (CLAP 2008). Hence, as ‘adaptation’ consists of actions undertaken to reduce the adverse consequences of climate change on human and natural system (NCCARF 2012), incorporating ‘ensuring education in a crisis situation’ into adaptation action plan of different stakeholders can ensure a planned and coordinated effort toward safeguarding education system during any disastrous situation.
With 8th highest population in the world (CIA 2012), Bangladesh has one of the largest primary education systems in the world but it is still largely unprepared to meet disaster challenges. Resource diversion (e.g. turning school premises into shelters) during a disaster resulting into delay of reopening school, children caught by physical and mental trauma tending to dropout from school are some of the major challenges the education system face during or after any disaster.
The government of Bangladesh has taken steps to address the issue through building school premises able to cater for disasters, introducing preparedness plans in school kits, etc (HPN 2010), but still there is a huge need for policy incorporation in this regard as the National Adaptation Program of Action and other relevant policy, guidelines make a very limited or no reference to ensuring education in an emergency situation.
The non-government sector is considered as the third force in the country’s development after the government and the private sector which has successfully contributed towards maintaining the country’s achievement in health and poverty alleviation. The sector’s coordinated effort started through establishment of education in emergency cluster by few agencies active in the field of education after the cyclone Sidr that struck the country in late 2007 (UNICEF Bangladesh 2010). The cluster, one of the active clusters out of 42 clusters established, globally led by UNICEF mainly as of March 2011, has now turned into a forum with around 30 members from the government, UN agencies, international NGOs, national and local NGOs. co-led by UNICEF and Save the Children UK. Initially its coordination mechanism was aimed at ensuring restoration of children’s education at the earliest opportunity and effective, more coherent and coordinated response of the agency to avoid duplication and gaps while it also vowed to work towards building education system-wide capacity and preparedness at both local and national level. The cluster is now advocating with the government of Bangladesh to put education in emergency as national priority.
Education is a right for the children and ensuring this right in any circumstances including an emergency situation is a legal binding for states that are signatory of the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (StC 2008). Also the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, MDG, etc stressed upon universal children’s education. Ensuring education for children in emergency situation can ensure children’s protection, continue their psycho-social development and can promote peace, prosperity and stability in the society (StC 2008).
Even after so many disasters, reopening schools is an afterthought to emergency responses which results into diverse loss in educational sector including damage of infrastructure, incompletion/under completion of curriculum, etc. This happens due to absence of preparedness about any potential future disaster. The government’s apparent limited capacity and scanty resources to respond to the massive scale of disasters seen to be contested and further aggravated by the unprepared situation of the concerned bodies. Therefore, it calls for ‘proactive adaptation’ measures for education in climate change agenda which instead of responding merely aftermath a disaster would enable the government, stakeholders in development and community to remain prepared beforehand. And this is possible by emphasising it in relevant policies, strategic and action plans of both government and non-governmental organisations.
In a national consultation during April 2010, both the representatives from Bangladesh government, the education cluster and education specialists from different organisations agreed upon inevitable need for prioritising education in emergency in the national agenda. But it does not seem to have achieved any noteworthy advancement yet in national adaptation strategies, policies or plans. NGOs in Bangladesh have played a significant role in increasing national literacy rate during last decades with successful formal, non-formal and alternative education models, hence, incorporating education in emergency theme in strategic goals of the NGOs in the education sector can result in viable education programmes. And beside advocacy for national policy integration, NGOs can act as trailblazer in ensuring education in emergency situation by devising their disaster preparedness, response and climate change adaptation effort especially with ‘alternative curriculum provision’ that may focus on exclusively different kind of disasters and preparedness and ‘alternative access programme’ that may provide a second chance to the dropout or victims of a disaster to catch up the formal level after a disaster (Baxter, P & Bethke, 2009).
Muhammad Ishaq-ur-Rahman is a development worker currently studying international development and
environmental analysis at Monash University, Australia.

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A priority in climate change adaptation

Rescue workers line up computer monitors and accessories recovered from the debris of a school damaged by cyclone Sidr.— New Age photo
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