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As an organization, UNESCO is undertaking or planning a range of activities in response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Listed below are announcements, links, and resources from the various sectors, as well as a new site operated by UN Thailand. As a regional bureau for education, UNESCO Bangkok's primary contribution to the emergency phase of the UN response has been the support of ministries of education in their assessments of damage and need in areas such as health education, and disaster awareness and preparedness (e.g. in the development of educational materials).

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UNESCO Bangkok’s Response to the Tsunami Disaster

As an organization, UNESCO’s immediate focus in response to the Tsunami disaster has been on the UN-coordinated project on early warning systems. From 18 to 22 January 2005, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, attended the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Reduction (WCDR) in Kobe, Japan, during which he proposed the establishment of a global tsunami early warning system, within which an Indian Ocean system would form an integral part. On 19 January, the Director-General addressed a special session of the WCDR, entitled “Promotion of Tsunami Disaster Mitigation in the Indian Ocean”

 

As a regional bureau for education, UNESCO Bangkok’s primary contribution to the emergency phase of the UN response has been the support of ministries of education in their assessments of damage and need in areas such as health education, and disaster awareness and preparedness (e.g., in the development of educational materials). Bureau staff have been involved in damage assessments in the Maldives, the Andaman Islands, the Nicobar Islands of India, and Thailand.

 

Given our broader mandate for culture, the natural and social sciences, and communication, we have also been developing projects (while seeking funding) aimed at improving the capacity of individuals and communities to reduce the risk of, and impact from, disasters. These include an assessment of environmental vulnerability and educational material and campaigns across sectors; a closer look at the potential role of Community Learning Centres in providing crisis recovery skills; reintegrating vulnerable indigenous populations such as the “Sea Gypsies” of the Andaman Islands (see below*); counseling through the use of traditional, indigenous performing arts; ensuring minimum accessibility standards in the reconstruction of schools; and the re-establishment of community radio stations.

 

For the medium-term, there are at least three other needs which will need to be addressed: the rehabilitation of the coral reefs and the mangrove forests (where reefs were dynamited, forests cleared, and lagoons drained to make way for tourist development) and which serve as natural barriers to tsunamis; the use of traditional architecture in the re-building of villages and tourist accommodations; and an assessment of the affected World Heritage properties along with the expansion of existing capacity in risk/catastrophe management.

 

We will post further information on these activities shortly.

 

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* Because of the particular importance of education for disaster preparedness, the Director General of UNESCO, Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura, recently highlighted the significant role of education in improving the capacity of individuals and communities to reduce the risk of disasters; “anticipating, educating and informing are the keys to reducing the deadly effect of such natural disasters” (3 January, 2005). Disaster prevention and mitigation is a core environmental issue identified by UNESCO in the Draft International Implementation Scheme (IIS) for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. Significantly, the Tsunami disaster has also served to highlight the importance of local and traditional knowledge in the region, and there are accounts in Thailand of sea gypsy communities that escaped the tsunami based on such knowledge. These and other traditional approaches should be seriously considered and utilized in future education for disaster preparedness initiatives. Both education and communication are critical for the planning and rehabilitation of areas most affected by the tsunami. By exchanging information on such assessments among interested parties, an outline of ESD issues can be developed as an umbrella to coordinate the development of future educational material and campaigns across all sectors. It is essential for the effectiveness of learning and capacity building of local communities that materials produced are appropriate to the needs of coastal communities, environmental agencies, local administrative authorities and other key stakeholders (such as tourism operators, relief agencies, schools, and other teaching and learning institutions).