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Source: United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
27 October 2015

Lessons from UNESCO’s crisis–disaster risk reduction programme in Gaza


As a result of the Operation Cast Lead crisis (December 2008/January 2009), also known as the Gaza War between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, UNESCO and other international organizations immediately developed responses to support the recovery of educational and other services in Gaza. UNESCO activities focused on gaps at secondary and higher education levels and the promotion of quality standards in emergency education, which included Palestine's first training sessions on applying the IN EE Minimum Standards for Education: Preparedness, Response and Recovery.

UNESCO's Programme of Emergency Support to the education system in Gaza was funded by the Office of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned of Qatar and started in late 2009. It was developed in response to identified sector priorities and gaps with initiatives to improve the preparedness of the education system in Gaza for future emergencies — whether related to conflict or to natural disasters — in order to minimize the physical and psychosocial effects and the disruptions to education that occur as a result of such emergencies. Based on the experience of the innovative crisis—disaster risk reduction (c-DRR)2 component of this programme, the UNESCO team prepared a booklet in 2012 to compile the lessons learned from the UNESCO emergency education response in Gaza.

The publication of this booklet is timely as it occurs at another challenging moment for Palestine. The scale of destruction and devastation after 51 days of conflict which ended on 26 August 2014 is unprecedented in Gaza; the education infrastructure has suffered massive destruction. According to the multi-cluster/agency initial rapid assessment (MIRA) findings, 26 schools have been completely destroyed and 122 damaged during the conflict, 75 of which are UN Relief and Works Agency (UN RWA) schools. It is worth noting that prior to the last conflict the education system in Gaza was already suffering from a shortage of at least zoo schools, which led to a large number of classes running in double shifts, and negatively impacted on the quality of education. Early childhood development has also been highly affected. Among a total of 407 kindergartens in Gaza, 133 were damaged and ii totally destroyed.3 According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, over 11,100 Palestinians, including 3,374 children, 2,088 women and 410 elderly, were injured. It is estimated that at least 1,000 of the children injured will be permanently disabled.

These figures highlight again the critical importance of protecting education systems from attack and mitigating the impact of crisis to ensure that all children benefit from the right to quality education, even during conflict and crisis situations.

This publication on lessons learned from UNESCO's emergency response and particularly from the c-DRR programme was compiled in 2012; it is extremely timely. In such volatile contexts, the strengthening of institutional and individual capacity to ensure the safety of schools should be an ongoing priority of government and non-government stakeholders alike. UNESCO's approach to education in emergencies offers a sustainable framework to implement inclusive c-DRR programmes in conflict or post-conflict environments. It also tries to bridge gaps between humanitarian and developmental interventions, keeping in mind that prevention and mitigation of crisis require not only emergency support to the education system, but medium and long-term support as well. Only then is it possible to ensure the availability of adequate capacities for both preparedness and response.

UNESCO has been promoting the exchange of experiences and lessons learned between the West Bank and Gaza. For instance, through the UNESCO c-DRR programme, an Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) community of practice has been established and trained in Gaza over the past few years; in May, 2015 master trainers from Gaza have expanded this training to the relevant Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MoEHE) Departments in Ramallah. Besides its support to the consolidation of the INEE network, UNESCO also assisted in the conceptualization process of the INEE Minimum Standards for Palestine in 2013 (INEE and oPt Education Cluster, 2013). Ownership by local institutions and partners is a key component of UNESCO's approach.

After the completion of the specific c-DRR programme in 2012, interventions proved to be sustainable, with continued close collaboration between Ministry and schools. For instance, follow-up was done with MoEH E and schools to update the list of most vulnerable schools according to specific criteria (e.g. schools directly bombed; schools located in `buffer zones' along border areas; schools difficult to access; schools near the sites of security or military training centres) or to ensure that monitoring systems continued to be operational in the targeted schools such as the SMS alert system for emergencies. In addition, support to partners continued through exchange of information and technical guidance on c-DRR and education in emergencies.

The impact of the c-DRR on institutions, schools and communities has definitely proved sustainable. For instance, many of the members of the schools safety committees (including the teachers) who attended the first aid training courses are able now to deal with many urgent cases arising during the school day without having to wait for an ambulance (as they were doing before the programme). Most of the schools are still using the SMS alert system in case of emergencies to inform the parents about what is happening at the schools. Another example of sustainable practice is that many of the teachers who received Right to Play training are still using the 'Red Ball Child Play methodology' in order to reduce violence among the children, and also use the 'Team Up methodology' to provide education through play. Some of the schools are also using the monitoring and reporting mechanism (MRM) to report on violations of the right to education, which is the added value of this c-DRR programme and approach compared with traditional DRR interventions.

It is critical to continue c-DRR interventions, to reactivate others, and to continue strengthening the monitoring and reporting of violations. UNESCO has been working closely with the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), notably to share lessons learned about monitoring attacks on education; more recently, UNESCO also participated in the launch of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict (GCPEA, 2014).

In this challenging context and based on lessons learned from years of experience in emergency education response, UNESCO aims to strengthen c-DRR programmes in the Gaza Strip. Focus will continue to be on the most vulnerable schools such as those located in the access restricted areas (ARA)/buffer zone. Higher education institutions would also warrant attention as they lack knowledge about education in emergencies in general and c-DRR in particular.

It is very clear — when looking at the level of the preparedness, response and recovery in the ongoing crisis — that the c-DRR approach is critical: to providing a safe learning environment for students and staff; to developing and designing emergency plans in order to be ready to face different kinds of crisis; to promoting the principle of inclusive education through facilitating access to quality education for all children, including children with special education needs (e.g. children with disabilities, psychosocial needs or learning difficulties), which is even more important in time of crisis; and to using the MRM-CAAC mechanism to report violations of the right to education. Good preparedness is a key to boosting the education sector's capacity to mitigate negative impact and speed up recovery after crisis.

Lodovico Folin-Calabi, Head of Office, a.i., UNESCO Ramallah

1. Background

The crisis—disaster risk reduction programme (c-DRR) is part of UNESCO's Gaza emergency education programme that supported schools at high risk of attack in the Gaza Strip during 2011. It was a pilot project that sought to make vulnerable schools safer by adopting an integrated protection and education approach. Specifically, it adapted the principles and good practices of disaster risk reduction to a conflict setting and the particular context of Gaza. The programme comprised six main activities, which were implemented in two phases (see Tables 1 and 2, and Figure 1 for details).

Phase I

During Phase I of the project, which began in January 2011, the 12 public schools located in Gaza's access restricted areas (ARA) were provided with training and associated support on:

1. First aid (partner organization: Palestinian Red Crescent).

2. Good safety practices, including school evacuation and preventing and putting out fires (partner organization: the Safety and Health Protection Association, SH PA).

3. Training on human rights monitoring and reporting, with a specific focus on reporting for the monitoring and reporting mechanism on children and armed conflict (MRM-CAAC) (partner organization: Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights).

4. Psychosocial activities focused on the use of learner centred methodologies and approaches (partner organization: Right to Play).

Phase II

During Phase II of the project, which began in April 2011, activities were expanded to respond to 10 more vulnerable schools (part of a list of 8o identified through the MRM-CAAC database). Basic safety equipment (first aid kits, fire extinguishers, and generators) were also provided to all 22 schools, and in response to feedback received during Phase I, a further two activities were initiated:

1. Training sessions on the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (IN EE) Minimum Standards (MS) (2010) in all of the schools, with a specific view to developing school-based contingency plans to increase preparedness and quality of local responses in emergencies (partner organization: University College for Applied Sciences).

2. The creation of a short message service (SMS) alert system that will allow school stakeholders (schools, MoEH E, students and staff) to send and receive timely information regarding attacks and incidents in the vicinity of the school. The system became operational at the beginning of the 2011/2012 academic year (partner organization: SoukTel).

Subsequently, a 'Phase II plus' was implemented in the second semester of 2011, covering a further seven schools, and bringing the total number of beneficiary schools to 29.


2. The programme initially used the terminolog'conflict-DRR'; eventually this changed to 'crisis-DRR' which is wider and includes all types of emergency situations.

3. According to a recent assessment by Save the Children in coordination with the Humanitarian Education Cluster and the MoEHE (see UNESCO and EENET, n.d.).

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