In Tajikistan, Disaster Risk Reduction Begins in Schools

Weather-related disasters are increasing in strength and magnitude worldwide. Yet, if people and communities prepare for emergencies, they can reduce risk and damage, and save lives. In a small village in Central Tajikistan, simple measures like planting trees have helped stop floods, landslides and even avalanches. European Commission’s humanitarian partner Mercy Corps worked with a community in Tajikistan to build their resilience to disasters. It is one of the European Commission’s Disaster Preparedness projects (DIPECHO) in Central Asia.

The Rasht Valley in Central Tajikistan with its 300 000 inhabitants stands out for its high incidence of natural disasters, in a country greatly prone to such events. Every year, flash floods, mudflows, landslides and avalanches result in fatalities and destroy assets and productive land.

This year was no different. On 20 July 2015, heavy rains combined with glacial run-off and created mudflows in four Rasht Valley villages. The mudflows ravaged everything on their path, leaving one young man dead and dozens injured. In the villages of Bedak, Halqarf, Pingdon and Mazori Bolo, more than 70 families lost their houses and were left with nothing but the clothes they were wearing when the mudflows struck. There is little information about the number of domestic cattle killed or hectares of cultivated land plots and orchards destroyed.

Mudflows and flash floods are the most frequent localised disasters in this region, damaging homes, property, irrigation systems and farmland. To increase the level of preparedness of the families who live in these high-risk zones, Mercy Corps and partner Welthungerhilfe have been supporting these remote communities by implementing the project ‘Disaster Resilient Communities: A Watershed-Based Approach to Integrated Disaster Risk Management’.

This innovative project, funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), has increased the resilience of 29 target communities through child-to-child training, bio-engineering, early-warning systems and partnerships with the private sector.

“In previous years, when there were heavy rains, floods and landslides used to cover everything. But this year for example, along the contour lines we planted trees and the flooding has totally stopped…This method also protects our communities from avalanches,” says Asadullo Kavgov, a farmer.

More than 500 women have been actively involved in disaster risk management. Many participated in simulation exercises where they learned how to place sand bags around their villages to block mudslides and floodwaters – a skill that proved critical this past April when mudflows threatened a number of villages.

To date, Mercy Corps has provided disaster preparedness and training on sanitation and hygiene to more than 50 teachers and representatives of Tajikistan’s Committee of Emergency Situations in 29 villages.

Thanks to the training, these people learned how to educate school children and community groups on disaster preparedness. During the school year, they will educate students, who will then train their peers. In these trainings, the students will learn how to develop evacuation plans and organise emergency response simulations in their schools, ensuring a long-term impact of this project.

The above article was written by Katrin Oehlkers, former Communication and Development Officer, Mercy Corps Tajikistan, for EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) and was originally published here.

The remote eastern Tajikistan‘s Pamir mountains. Photo: © EU - EC/ECHO/J.George, Under Creative Commons
The remote eastern Tajikistan‘s Pamir mountains. Photo: © EU – EC/ECHO/J.George, Under Creative Commons