Liberia: ECOWAS, NDMA Take Disaster Management to the Classrooms

Launch training for teachers, education officials

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) have launched a three-day training for school teachers and education officials on the mainstreaming and integration of Disaster Risk Reduction and Management into the school curriculum in Liberia.

The launch, which took place recently in Monrovia, is intended to build capacity and improve the knowledge and skills of teachers and educators on integrating Disaster Risk Reduction and Management into the school curriculum in Liberia.

The initiative is in line with the implementation of the ECOWAS action plan, which includes in its priority areas the development of education, training, research, and technology programs on disasters.

The event was attended by high profile dignitaries, including the Minister of Internal affairs and Chairman of NDMA Board, Varney A. Sirleaf, ECOWAS Resident Representative, Josephine Nkrumah, the Secretary General of the Liberia National Red Cross (LNRCS), Gregory T. Blamoh, and the Executive Director of the National Disaster Management Agency, (NDMA), Henry O. Williams, among others.

The ECOWAS Resident Representative said the pilot project initiated by the ECOWAS Commission provides an opportunity for national stakeholders to address how educational policies, planning, and programs can strengthen the resilience of children, youth, schools, communities, and the education system through comprehensive approaches to school safety and social cohesion.

“Integrating disaster risk reduction into the education sector is a cost-effective measure to reduce the long- term impact of disasters and helps prepare each new generation by institutionalizing disaster preparedness into the formal learning process,” Nkrumah said. “Raising awareness in the school community has a significant impact and promotes the construction of safer school buildings that can protect the lives of the students, teachers, and school officials, as well as those who take refuge in schools as the buildings are often transformed into safe shelters during disasters.”

She warned that the magnitude of vulnerability and exposure to hazards and losses from disasters is expected to increase over the next decade in the region.

“Flood and drought remain the most severe disasters in West Africa,” she said.

In Liberia, around 2.2 million people are exposed to floods, 320,000 coastal erosion and 2.1 million to windstorms. And with the impact of climate change, the country is expected to see increased risks from these natural disasters.

Liberia is one of the wettest countries in the world, with an average annual rainfall of more than 5,000 millimeters in Monrovia, and is prone to many natural risks and hazards such as floods, sea- erosion, storms and fires, putting the country at the risk of hydro meteorological hazards and natural disasters.

“As we all know, climate change is expected to result in more extreme weather situations such as heavy rains and drought in West Africa, while Liberia is prone to flooding and not drought, human displacement in neighboring countries will be additional future challenges,” she said. “Furthermore, heavily populated parts of the coast could be affected by frequent waterlogging.” 

These, she added, are likely to result in insignificant economic losses, damage to agricultural lands, infrastructures as well as human casualties.

“Vulnerability is exacerbated due to the country’s high level of poverty and high dependence on climate change sensitive sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, mining and forestry,” she said. “These further strain the coping capacity of Liberia as a country which is still recovering from the Ebola outbreak of 2014- 2016 and the current coronavirus (Covid- 19) pandemic.”

In response to the increasing risks of disasters in the region, Nkrumah noted that the ECOWAS Commission, in collaboration with its partners, developed a new action program for the period 2015-2030 in line with the standard framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).

Post- disaster recovery and development, the ECOWAS Resident Representative said, calls for the inclusion of DRR in development interventions aimed at reducing long-term risks and thereby building resilience.

“So in order to increase awareness of disaster risk reduction, consolidate disaster risk reduction intervention, and lay the foundation for long-term risk reduction, it is necessary to start raising awareness among future generations, especially school children and students in general,” she said. “This will empower the school children to know the challenges, prepare for it but more importantly to also begin to proffer and create solutions toward the African context.”

She urged the participants to have frank and open discussions in order to capitalize on the results of the workshop for the benefit of the education sector in general and their schools in particular in the bid to mitigate the disaster risks.

“I also urge you to fully embrace this training with passion to inculcate the requisite skill acts for our children.” She said 

LNRCS SG Blamoh told the participants to take the training seriously that when they get back into their familiar surroundings whether schools or offices they will make the difference.

“We are going to give you the message and hope you can do something about it,” he said. If you don’t, when we have a disaster we will only come to see what we can do. We will leave here and try to invest some of what we learn in our surroundings.”  

NDMA ED acknowledged ECOWAS for being a very genuine partner to the entity and the Liberian government.

“They have instituted a lot of programs and projects to build the capacity of the institution both material and human wise.” he said they have given us and are still giving us professional guidance and also one of the main imports to disaster management, humanitarian, assistance or capacity.

According to him, ECOWAS is a serious partner to the government of Liberia.

“This is a coincidence as the head of the Disaster Management Agency; I’m also the advisor for the consultant of teachers and university lecturer,” he said. “So when I saw this program, I said wow, this will enhance and it will really go a long way because these are the things we are also looking at.”

He added that the aims and objectives of the program are to make coarse resilient as it is done with disaster.

Meanwhile, Williams noted that one of the main issues is the setting up of the School Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Platform.

“This platform is very important because it will bring school authority together, it will bring teachers together to discuss issues of disaster. There is a lot of awareness and capacity of teachers and administrators regarding disaster risk reduction,” Williams said.

He added that the training is an awareness tool to make the teachers and educators to be aware and make them to be educated on how to take care of disasters in school.