BISHKEK -- A new World Bank programme aims to help keep classrooms -- and students -- safe in earthquake-prone Kyrgyzstan.
Earthquakes, climate change and deteriorating infrastructure present a significant challenge to the education sector in Kyrgyzstan, one of the most seismically active countries in Central Asia.
Earthquakes and other dangers
The country registers more than 300 earthquakes annually. A recent study estimates that they lead to economic losses of more than $280 million (19.1 billion KGS) -- 4.3% of GDP -- per year because of damage to buildings, property and infrastructure.
But earthquakes are not the only natural disasters facing Kyrgyzstan.
The country is also highly prone to landslides, mudflows, glacial lake outburst floods and avalanches. It is predicted that more than one-third of glaciers in Central Asia may disappear by 2100, which would dramatically raise the incidences of such extreme weather events.
The impact of earthquakes is especially acute in Kyrgyzstan's education sector, with more than $12 million (819.7 billion KGS) in economic losses each year.
The threat to human life is even more significant. About 1.5 million Kyrgyz schoolchildren, in more than 3,000 school buildings across the country, are at significant risk from earthquakes.
As such, the Kyrgyz government has adopted the State Programme on Safe Schools and Preschools, which aims to improve the safety of all 3,228 educational facilities in the country by 2024.
The World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery are providing support to the government in implementing this forward-looking strategy.
The recently approved "Enhancing Resilience in Kyrgyzstan Project" will help improve the safety and functionality of educational facilities across the country, by modernising infrastructure and implementing specific retrofitting programmes to ensure that school buildings are more resistant to natural disasters.
With support from the World Bank's Global Programme for Safer Schools, this project will build upon the lessons learned from safer school projects undertaken in other countries, including Colombia, the Philippines and Turkey.
Protecting children and their future
The project also aims to improve energy efficiency, heating, water and sanitation in selected educational facilities, given that most schools were built during the Soviet period and are in need of urgent modernisation.
As part of the new state programme, a web-based school infrastructure module will help assist the Ministry of Education and other relevant agencies in the management and maintenance of school infrastructure.
In a country where one-quarter of the population lives below the poverty line, natural disasters not only undermine educational opportunities and the development of children, they compromise overall poverty reduction as well.
With World Bank support, the Kyrgyz government is taking critical steps to build a stronger, safer, more resilient infrastructure for the country's education sector, ultimately to protect children and their future.
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