Mainstreaming disaster risk reduction in nepals education system shyam sundar jnavaly - june 2010
Ensuring human security in emergencies:
Mainstreaming disaster risk reduction in Nepal's
By Shyam Sundar Jnavaly , ActionAid Nepal
About this series, ‘Stories from the Frontline’
‘Stories from the Frontline’ emerge from an Impact
Assessment and Shared Learning (IASL) initiative to support
critical thinking about and documentation of ActionAid
International’s rights-based work for transformation and
justice. The initiative, which is implemented at country
level, aims more generally to strengthen our ability to write
about change in an analytical, powerful and effective way.
The Stories, written by the staff most intimately connected
to our change work in the field or ‘at the front’, are
developed through an empowering writing journey that
begins with a five-day critical writing retreat. This is
followed by a period of mentorship and peer support to
deepen analysis, thinking and writing; and the journey
concludes with an editing phase that is strongly oriented to
building the confidence of the writers and strengthening
their writing skills. Programme staff have been the main
target of this initiative, but we have also supported writing
about other dimensions of our change practice through
policy and campaigns work, and through internal
organisational change initiatives. Please be in contact with
the Regional IASL Advisor for Eastern and Southern Africa,
Vincent Azumah for more information and support to
develop such an initiative and Hamlet Johannes for
assistance to locate more stories in this series and for
permission to use these stories.
Special thanks to the mentors of writers from the Nepal writing retreat (in alphabetical order): Everjoice Win
(AA International), Laurie Adams (AA International), Samantha Hargreaves (AA International), Silva Ferretti and
Yuko Yoneda (AA International).
Editing: Lucy Southwood and Samantha Hargreaves
Proofreading: Tripti Rai and Samantha Hargreaves
Design and layout: Hamlet Johannes
Cover illustration: Alastair Findlay
Ensuring human security in emergencies:
Mainstreaming disaster risk reduction in
Nepal's education system
This paper tells the story of ActionAid Nepal's efforts to mainstream disaster risk
reduction (DRR) education in the school curriculum as part of a project which ran
from October 2006 to February 2010. Positive results have seen students learning
about the causes and effects of disasters, disseminating this knowledge among their
community, and exploring local solutions to disasters.
We worked with the government's curriculum development centre to review and
amend textbooks for years 9 and 10, ensuring that they provide children with
relevant information on disaster risks and how to reduce them. And although the
government has been proactive in addressing DRR through textbooks, we will
continue to work with government, civil society and the private sector to urge
proactive government policy for DRR through schools and to ensure that momentum
is not lost.
In sharing our experiences of the issue, process and outcomes of our work on DRR
curriculum change, we hope to influence and support activists, mobilisers and
stakeholders at all levels who are concerned with DRR and the education system in
Education is the foundation of a strong community. In order to increase a community’s ability to respond
effectively to future disasters, it is vital that the children in the community are informed about disasters
and their associated risks, as well as any initiatives to reduce that risk. Thir Bahadur, an undersecretary at
the Ministry of Home Affairs, speaking at a workshop on International Disaster Risk Reduction Day in
2007, stated that: “The basic aspect of disaster management is education. This is why the school
curriculum should include adequate DRR education.”
Until the early 1990s emergency work was seen primarily as humanitarian work – offering physical
assistance to victims of a disaster, delivering life-saving services etc. It had no long-term vision or strategy
and did not consider sustainability or the population's overall development needs. Although it was viewed
as a development issue, the development sector had not realised the importance of emergency work.
This all changed in the late 1990s after the Rwandan genocide, when a multi-donor evaluation of the
disaster response recommended that development organisations consider the values of linking relief and
rehabilitation with development – in other words, mainstreaming disaster risk reduction (DRR) in
Stories from the Frontline Page 2
development. At the same time, organisations were adopting a right-based perspective as a cross-cutting
approach to development.
As a result of this new approach to emergency work, ActionAid Nepal, in collaboration with other
likeminded bodies, has been lobbying the Nepalese government to bring the DRR act, policy, strategy and
action plan into effect. We are also part of DRR through schools (DRRS), a pilot programme across nine
countries that works with schools as an entry point to initiate disaster preparedness and risk reduction
work in a community.
This paper tells the story of ActionAid Nepal's efforts to mainstream DRR education through the school
curriculum and in textbooks. We hope that by sharing our experiences of the issue, process and outcomes
of our work on DRR curriculum change, we can influence and support education and DRR activists and
mobilisers in the community, DRR networks and stakeholders at all levels, UN agencies, donors and other
INGOs who are concerned with DRR and the education system in Nepal.
Nepal is vulnerable to a variety of disasters and potential hazards, including floods, earthquakes and
landslides. One-quarter of the total population are at risk of disaster – that includes around 6.3 million
schoolchildren and 141,000 teachers. Schools are particularly at risk because:
they are located in high-risk areas liable to flooding and landslides;
most were built without earthquake-resistant technology;
overcrowded classrooms pose a danger (on average there are 40-70 children in a class); and
there is a lack of preparedness, safety drills and contingency plans.
In many areas, poor road accessibility is a crucial problem. In such cases, when schools are hit by a
disaster, they are often inaccessible, making it difficult to bring in relief and support. Ideally, communities
should avoid disasters if they can; but in cases where this is not possible, it is vital that they have the
capacity locally to respond to disasters when they strike.
Official policy on DRR in education
As one of the signatories of the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA),1 Nepal agreed to adopt the
recommendation of the second world conference on disaster reduction to “use knowledge, innovation
and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels”. The government has shown some
commitment by forming the national platform on DRR and accepting the Disaster Management Act and
other disaster management policies and strategies formulated and submitted by DRR stakeholders in
Nepal, including the UN and international NGOs. However, the constituent assembly has yet to endorse
these or enact and implement the improved bill, the policy or the strategy – all of which would guarantee
the right to life with dignity in an emergency and the right to protection and security from disaster risk.
Formal education can serve as a good source of that information, but until recently, there was no DRR
component in Nepal’s school curriculum. It was assumed that the issue was too big for students to grapple
with, and was rarely discussed or practiced at school. At a national DRR inception workshop in February
2007 in Kathmandu, both officials and development workers acknowledged that the school curriculum
was one of the best ways to disseminate DRR knowledge on a large scale. Nevertheless, neither the
government nor development agencies capitalised on this. Prior to our DRR through schools project,
The HFA is a global blueprint for disaster risk reduction efforts for 2005-15. Its goal is to substantially reduce disaster losses by 2015 – both in
lives and the social, economic and environmental assets of communities and countries. For more information, see
Stories from the Frontline Page 3
children learnt a little about the causes and consequences of climatic hazards – floods, drought,
landslides, earthquakes, hail and thunderstorms – but they did not explore what makes hazards disasters
or learn about DRR.
Following the adoption of the HFA and the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
(UNISDR) campaign on education and children, there has been a growing demand from the international
community for national governments and other organisations to work on education, school safety and
knowledge of hazards, mitigation and disaster preparedness and response. However, because the process
and procedures were both inadequate and unclear, it was difficult to translate the strategy into action. As
a result of the DRRS project, the stakeholders, development agencies and government all realised that we
needed a strategy to scale up school-based DRR initiatives at national and district levels.
DRR has not yet been valued by many development actors in Nepal – out of 165 INGOs and 35
bilateral/multilateral development agencies working in the country, only about 30 are working on DRR.
Studies carried out by ActionAid Nepal in 2007 revealed that out of 30,000 schools, only 300 were safely
built and resistant to disaster, and only 300 out of the 141,000 teachers in high-risk areas were trained
and oriented on DRR.
The situation in schools prior to the DRRS programme
A lack of DRR knowledge meant that school management committees, parent-teacher associations and
students were rarely aware of disaster risk, while little importance was placed on encouraging a culture of
safety through education. Schools are often built in weaker and more vulnerable areas; and school
buildings are rarely built to resist disaster, partly out of a lack of awareness of the risks posed by hazards
such as flood and landslides. Also, a lack of foresight by policy planners and decision makers means that
schools are often used as emergency shelters, affecting the continuity of schooling and violating children's
right to uninterrupted education by denying them a regular school environment.
Prior to our DRRS project work, there were no disaster training programmes for school teachers and no
DRR-focused subjects in the school curriculum. Although there was limited reference to DRR with regards
to environment, natural events and environmental health in four subjects – social studies; science; health,
population and environmental education; and Nepali – the curriculum, textbooks and teachers’ guides
were not disaster-sensitive. Neither were disaster-related topics included in the School Leaving Certificate
(SLC) examination questions.
There was no holistic book that could be used to teach students about DRR in the classroom. The limited
DRR resources available for schools included:
Supplementary reading material for
grade 5 on water-induced disaster in
Makwanpur, Dhading and Kathmandu
districts developed by Curriculum
Development Centre (CDC)/
government of Nepal in 2005.
The disaster knowledge series
developed by ActionAid Nepal, Oxfam
and ECO Nepal in 2007, regarded as
the reference book on DRR.
Other handbooks and reference guides
on DRR published between 2005 and
2008 by the National Society of
Earthquake Technology Nepal, Students practice the earthquake safety drill in their class room
Lutheran World Federation, United
Stories from the Frontline Page 4
Mission to Nepal, UNICEF and WWF, which were all limited to specific hazards.
Knowledge of local and contextual disaster was not analysed or covered in the school curriculum. Children
learnt about hazards as geophysical phenomena, but their relation to the local context and their impact
on society was not taught explicitly. In other words, they learnt the technical details but did not analyse
the social dimensions and impacts. As a result, the children could not adapt the knowledge and
information they learnt in school to develop important life skills that could help them in the future. They
did not learn to prepare for disaster.
ActionAid Nepal: working for change
Disasters can be reduced substantially if people are well informed about measures they can take to
reduce vulnerability – and if they are motivated to act. ActionAid Nepal's DRRS project, which ran from
October 2006 to February 2010, aimed to provide relevant information on disaster risks and means of
protection in formal, non-formal and informal education and training activities.
The goal was to reduce people's vulnerability to natural disaster by contributing to the implementation of
the HFA. We worked in high-disaster-risk areas to make schools safer and enable them to act as a locus for
DRR, thus engaging the education sector in the HFA.
The HFA seeks to ensure that DRR is a national and local priority by drawing upon both national platforms
and community participation. The framework aims to use "knowledge, innovation and education to build a
culture of safety and resilience at all levels." The DRRS project therefore developed coalitions of
educational institutions to link work on DRR in individual schools to national processes.
In order to achieve its overall goal and purposes, the project adopted the following strategies:
Improving the ability of vulnerable communities to cope with disasters using community-based
disaster preparedness strategies.
Establishing and building the capacity of alliances and networks for effective disaster
preparedness and response.
Mapping hazards and conducting vulnerability assessments of disaster-prone areas and
advocating for necessary mitigation measures.
Providing immediate relief and rehabilitation to the neediest during disaster and post-disaster
Promoting the rights of disaster victims to proper compensation and rehabilitation through
advocacy for the formulation of appropriate policies by the government.
The project directly involved eight schools, 4,500 children, 200 teachers, 100 parents and 200 community
members, but its indirect beneficiaries numbered about 25,000, including national-level civil society
groups, policy makers and campaigners. Activities took place at the community, district and national levels
to target as great an audience as possible with messages about DRR.
In order to mainstream DRR in the school curriculum, ActionAid Nepal adopted a systematic process
starting with informal discussions with some of its partners, including the Education Network, the Disaster
Preparedness Network, the National Society for Earthquake Technologies, and the Centre for Policy
Research and Consultancy. The next step was a formal meeting with the Curriculum Development Centre
and the government' Department of Education.
The CDC was quickly convinced of the relevance of mainstreaming DRR and students serving as agents of
change, and gave the green light for the third step; a series of workshops and interactions between
Stories from the Frontline Page 5
government professionals, subject experts and disaster professionals. The result of these workshops was a
recommendation that subject specialists be sensitised in DRR, after which they coordinated a review, with
top-level officials, of the five core subjects and exams: Nepali; science; social studies; maths; and health,
population and environment. The assessment found that only 5% of material in these subjects was related
to disaster, and none was directly relevant to DRR at the local level.
There followed a series of interactions and consultations with children, teachers, staff, school
management committees, parent-teacher associations and community members to draw attention to
gaps in DRR education and get advice on the nature of the curriculum, based on their knowledge and
experiences. The curriculum was consequently revised using their input and draft texts. To date, the CDC
has revised three compulsory subjects – social studies, science and health, population and environment –
for grades nine and ten, rewriting the textbooks to integrate DRR education throughout. The task of
formulating teacher guides and training modules for teachers is currently underway.
Since the introduction of the CDC textbooks and the disaster knowledge series, students have started
learning about the causes and effects of disasters and exploring local solutions to them. Learning about
hazards, the causes and consequences of disasters and strategies to mitigate risks means that students no
longer attribute disasters to God’s will. And with this, there has been a radical shift in attitude: student no
longer fear disaster, but feel empowered to tackle problems at the local level.
"There is no comparison between the previous curriculum and the new one. Because the previous
curriculum was focused on the problem of hazards, their causes and consequences, teaching was
difficult because it generated fear among students about what they would do if a disaster occurred. To
minimise trauma, we did not discuss the local-level consequences of disasters even though students
keenly listened to TV and radio reports. Now the curriculum focuses on solving rather than simply
identifying problems and provides practical tips and examples. Now we can link what is in the textbook
with what happens locally. We hope that similarly informative and empowering texts are developed
for sixth, seventh and eighth grades."
Mr Megh Raj Neupaney, teacher, JanaKalyan Secondary School, Bageshwori, Banke.
Students equipped with practical DRR knowledge have managed this knowledge well, disseminating it at
home and applying it in school. They understand the roles and responsibilities of their guardians and
school management committees in reducing disaster risks by mobilising local resources and urge them to
act. For example, some students have taken on the role of local resource person who communicate do's
and don’ts during and after an earthquake to save lives; others have formed youth volunteer groups who
share DRR knowledge with their parents and teach first aid and safety to community groups.
“We children really want to help others by using what we learn in school and from our peer groups.
Parents may want to do everything themselves and may think we can’t do anything, but actually if we
are given a chance and some guidance, we can do better than they can in reducing disaster risks.
Many parents in the interaction meetings said that they were enriched in DRR education through us.
Once parents are educated about DRR, they further sharpened their knowledge by drawing upon their
practical understanding and life experiences. As a result, we saw some immediate changes. For the
first time, they made a temporary bridge across a small stream just for us though they themselves had
no problem crossing it.”
Bima Kumari BK, Mahendra Secondary School, Matehiya, Banke
Stories from the Frontline Page 6
Sensitising students and schoolchildren has helped the government meet the HFA's third priority for
action: "to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels through using knowledge, innovation and
education." The initiative has also built a strong foundation for changing policy and lobbying for existing
policy to be put into practice, for example: listening to and addressing the ideas and recommendations of
all stakeholders on DRR and education, including government officials, civil society, parents, teachers and
political leaders; making sure information is disseminated widely; building the capacity of school
management committees and parents' assemblies; and implementing DRR projects in schools and
“Since the project starting work with us, we have learnt many things about DRR. The most outstanding
changes are that school grounds have been levelled and tall trees next to schools have been trimmed
to lessen the possible risks of a lightning strike. The funeral ghat has been relocated far from the
school, community-owned ponds cleaned and wooden electricity poles removed. These changes have
made schools and the community safer. I think there are still many things to do to make schools safer
but we have made a good start.”
Mr Susanta KC, Balkumari Secondary School, Sunakothi, Lalitpur
During the first phase of the project (2006-9), the CDC revised three compulsory subjects – social studies,
science, and health, population and environment – and their corresponding textbooks for grades nine and
ten, integrating DRR education in all of them. Pleased by the results, CDC has taken a proactive role in
mainstreaming DRR education for seventh and eighth grade students, and ActionAid Nepal will be working
with them in the second phase of the project (tentatively planned for October 2010 – December 2013) to
revise the textbooks for these years.
Following advocacy from ActionAid Nepal, the CDC has also made plans to incorporate DRR into primary
grades in the future. The CDC has led the curriculum review process and will continue to do so, with
technical support from ActionAid Nepal. The department of education will incorporate the rest of the
learning from the project during the second phase of the project.
“In the opinion of education, curriculum and DRR experts, the existing school curriculum needs to be
revised to include DRR-sensitive curricula in every grade. With the project, we incorporated DRR only in
the secondary-level curriculum, but we will include DRR in the curricula of other grades as well. I think
CDC itself will lead the initiative to mainstream DRR with its own resources.”
Haribol Khanal, executive director, CDC
ActionAid Nepal research in 2007 showed that development actors were imparting disaster education and
preparedness initiatives in only 300 out of more than 18,000 schools. The integration of DRR education
into the school curriculum will help ensure that all schools throughout Nepal have access to disaster
Challenges and lessons learnt
Our analysis of why knowledge and education were not given the importance they deserved found that
policy planners and decision-making authorities did not think DRR was important for children. This
attitude meant that there was no clear policy statement on DRR in the curriculum, and it was not a
Stories from the Frontline Page 7
“I still remember that, though I used to tell my mother about DRR steps that could reduce the disaster
risks, she would just scoff at the, saying she knew about disaster risks before I was even born. I would
challenge her, saying that if she knew all about them, why hadn’t she done anything? Now she listens
to the messages about DRR that I bring home from school.”
Sukulal Pakhrin, Grade 9, Churiyamai Secondary School, Makawanpur
A lack of transparency in the education system's curriculum development process – which is usually led by
experts and bureaucrats - also made it difficult for NGOs and civil society organisations to work on the
issue, leaving them with no role in which they could intervene. The curriculum revision process in Nepal is
under-resourced and therefore lengthy and time consuming, sometimes taking longer than 10 years to
complete. However, because our project plan was aligned with the government's five-yearly curriculum
revision, the DRR mainstreaming process was quite speedy.
Following our work with the CDC, DRR education has been added to some school textbooks, and we are
currently working on developing teachers' guides and other reference materials. The process so far has
taught us many things, including the following:
Schoolchildren are important agents of change. Providing them with DRR knowledge results in the
speedy dissemination of that information. They transfer it to their parents and guardians, who in
turn circulate it throughout the community.
A solution-centric curriculum reduces disaster risk remarkably because it promotes a ‘can-do’
It is essential to involve government professionals in the process. Mainstreaming DRR in the
education system proceeded rapidly because the CDC was involved and convinced from the
outset. Functional coordination with relevant government agencies is necessary if action is to be
The way forward
Speaking on the International DRR day in 2007, Haribol Khanal, the executive director of CDC, showed the
government's commitment to mainstreaming DRR in the education system, saying: “It has been suggested
that we need to have a disaster education-sensitive school curriculum. In coordination and cooperation
with concerned stakeholders, the Curriculum Development Centre is committed to integrate DRR into
education as far as possible in Nepal.”
ActionAid Nepal remains committed to supporting them. We must therefore make good use of existing
national and international instruments, such as Education for All – the government of Nepal's long-term
programme to improve quality and access in primary education – which provides a good opportunity to
achieve both spread and quantity for DRR initiatives.
ActionAid Nepal also believes that school disaster plans should be included in the education process and
that schools need to adopt a comprehensive approach to promoting a culture of safety. This is why, during
the second phase of the DRRS project, we will also take forward a school safety approach, with special
emphasis on the school curriculum. In short, a school safety approach aims to:
reduce injury and death by improving infrastructure and school readiness;
build future leadership; and
provide continuity in education during and after a disaster.
Stories from the Frontline Page 8
There are two broad approaches for school safety:
A school-focused approach, ensuring that buildings are seismically safe and there is a system in
place to handle primary rush in case of an emergency.
A community-focused approach, with the active participation of children, using schools as centres
of disaster risk reduction.
Both approaches build leadership and develop skills among children, teachers and school
To continue and support the process started by the CDC's curriculum review, we call on civil society
groups to organise campaigns to pressurise the government of Nepal to adapt teaching guidelines and
train resource persons to support the imparting of DRR education through the integrated curriculum. Our
roadmap for mainstreaming DRR in schools includes:
Developing a guide for teaching DRR issues (currently in progress).
Providing training on the use of the DRR teachers' guide through the Ministry of Education, CDC
and National Centre for Resource Development.
Lobbying the Ministry of Education's curriculum revision committee for the periodic revision of
textbooks for all school grades.
Lobbying the Ministry of Education to incorporate DRR in its school improvement and school
sector reform projects, and in its literacy campaign.
Encouraging schools to organise extracurricular activities – such as essay competitions and plays
on school safety and disaster risk reduction – to continue to raise awareness of DRR.
It is vital to focus efforts on integrating DRR into the national curriculum as a process, not as a short-term
project. Ananda Poudel from the CDC said: “We have started putting disaster education not only in the
curriculum, but also in textbooks. DRR integration is not a onetime event; it is a process and we need to
work on it constantly. We must seriously work on developing the teachers guide and DRR reference
materials, to ensure that DRR education is taught correctly in each school.” ActionAid Nepal therefore
Existing resource centres are
used to impart need-based
training, school safety and
display educational materials.
Each district currently has 10
resource centres which
support school management
committees, organise new
teaching methodologies and
provide teaching aids to
schools. These centres are
currently more focused on
teaching aids than on the life Demonstration on fire safety for students and teachers
skills related to DRR plans and
The capacity of the government’s regional and national training centres is enhanced to enable
them to design and disseminate the demand-driven curriculum related to DRR.
Stories from the Frontline Page 9
Each training centre should have a dedicated resource person to train teachers and school
management committees on mainstreaming DRR in the school curriculum and in individual
schools' plans and programmes.
Finally, it falls to all of us to ensure the DRRS process continues. Although the government's 2009 national
strategy on DRR identified mainstreaming DRR in the school curriculum as its prime agenda, and it has
been proactive in addressing DRR in school textbooks, the absence of a proactive policy for DRR through
schools remains a big challenge.
It is therefore imperative that
the government, civil society
and the private sector continue
to work together to ensure that
we do not lose momentum of
the DRR initiatives to reduce
the underlying risks of disaster.
Construction of earthquake-resistant school buildings
Shyam Sundar Jnavaly
Human security theme leader and deputy project manager,
I have worked at ActionAid Nepal for 15 years. My current
role is to manage ActionAid Nepal's emergency response
and disaster management initiatives to ensure that our
work mainstreams risk reduction measures to build poor
and marginalised people's resilience to natural hazards and
vulnerabilities. I also act as the focal point for all our
emergency and DRR work.
From my work with ActionAid Nepal, I have come to realise that, in an emergency, when
deprivation and starvation kills, human security work helps people withstand, revive their
hopes in life and uphold their dignity.
Stories from the Frontline Page 10