Assam school kids teach villagers disaster-management

Assam school kids teach villagers disaster-management

Assam School Kids Teach Villagers Disaster-Management. Jibon Payeng (45) and the 4 members of his family now express confidence when quizzed about disaster and how to escape from the wrath of such disasters.

Jibon Payeng (45) and the 4 members of his family now express confidence when quizzed about disaster and how to escape from the wrath of such disasters. When asked from where they have learnt this, they have a simple and short reply—our son, Keshab Payeng.

Payeng’s village, Dihiri, located at Dhemaji district had never experienced flood before. But over the years his village too is also being affected, and now since the past 4-5 years water has started to enter his village. Pointing at the paved road outside his house which connects the main road to the Dhemaji town, he also said that the frequency and intensity of the flood has increased.

“We have known from our childhood that our district (Dhemaji) is very flood prone, but over the years we have experienced that the intensity of flood has increased. The flood situation here now is a lot different from what it was in our youth and childhood days,” said Payeng.

He also said that earlier the wave of flood used to be uniform, and on an average a maximum of two flood waves used to take place, unlike now when it goes up to three waves of flood in a single year.

According to the scientific community as a result of climate change there has been an impact on flood and erosion, and this could enhance disasters such as flood in the region.

“As a result of climate change the rainfall has become more erratic, and this will definitely have an impact on the magnitude and intensity of the flood,” said Lalit Saikia, a PhD scholar at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Guwahati.

Saikia also pointed out that over the years the flood in the region has become unpredictable, and the frequency and duration has also increased, and added since these are linked to rainfall, there is a linkage with the change in climate.

Jibon Payeng and his family are not the only ones in the flood ravaged districts of Lakhimpur and Dhemaji in the North Eastern state of Assam who have learnt practices of adaptation to disaster risk reduction, and how to deal with a crisis at times of disaster, there are thousands more.

Interestingly the lessons have been imparted to them by none other than their school going children who have learnt the exercises as part of a training program developed by the well known voluntary organisation, Rural Voluntary Centre (RVC) located at Akajan, in the flood ravaged district of Dhemaji in the state which borders the state of Arunachal Pradesh. The program titled—sishu duryug pratirodh samiti (SDPS), meaning preparing the future generation to understand, plan and reduce risks of disaster in the flood plains of the Brahmaputra river basin.

Dipen Pegu, a farmer based at the Akojan Miri village in the Dhemji district in the state is another villager who has benefitted immensely from this unique campaign, and he points out that his nine-year-old son, Bhubon had learnt about disaster and how to tackle problems associated with disasters at school, and at home he literally drags all the family members to the living room where he imparts them knowledge on whatever he had learnt at school regarding disaster risk reduction.

Dipen Pegu pointed out that earlier they used to be prepared for the flood, and could even anticipate the expected losses, but now it is not so as the flood has become unpredictable. He also said that the inability to be able to anticipate the flood now puts the threat regarding loss of human lives at a much higher level than before, and added that this is where the training has been very helpful.

“Now the flood causes a lot of damage to us as it washes away the grains on which we depend, being farmers we have to survive on our produce from our land. But now we are happy that we are learning about saving our lives when a disaster occurs, as money and property could be replaced but it is never possible with lives,” said Pegu.

Pegu’s neighbour and friend Putul Doley pointed out that earlier it was possible to be prepared for the flood, and to take all the necessary steps to survive from it.

“We have always known that flood was always a regular event here in this part of the world and our forefathers had learnt to live with it. They used to collect the necessary items required such as food, clothes etc and used to survive on a house built on raised platform till the flood water recedes, which usually used to be a few days, unlike now when the flood water stays on for such a long period of time,” said Doley.

Doley also said that now flood means nothing but disaster, and it is very important for the people in this part of the highly flood affected area to be aware and prepared to tackle disaster.

The program is a school level initiative, through which school children are made to understand disaster, about plans to address disaster, and in turn plans to reduce risks of disaster through their own initiatives.

Presently the program has been extended to about 80 schools of lower primary and Middle English schools in the Dhemaji District and Lakhimpur district, and the approach has been largely appreciated by the communities as well as by the concerned Government department of Dhemaji and Lakhimpur District.

Villagers and community leaders welcome this new initiative and said that they hope to benefit a lot from it.

“We are aware that as a result of the entire phenomenon of climate change, global warming, and man made destruction of hills and the natural environment there has been a drastic change in the ways of nature and things are a lot different from what it was earlier. Earlier we never used to experience three waves of flood in a short duration in a single year as it is now. These are massive disasters, and only an initiative like this can gear up the local people to be able to minimise the damages” said Keshab Krishna Chatradhara, an activist associated with the Dhemaji based People’s Movement for Subansiri and Brahmaputra valley, an organisation which is working several social issues, who is also associated with the program as an instructor and volunteer.

During the course of the program, the key technical inputs provided to the students who undertake the program are - how to disseminate early warning message traditional methods as well as using megaphone, how to lift and carry injured persons safely, how to treat minor injuries, how to bring out water from the stomach of a drowned person, how to make life-jacket from locally available materials, how to prevent and treat minor ailments etc.

The school authorities where the program has been implemented pointed out that initially it was difficult to convince the parents and young students about these training, and also said that in the initial years several parents had refused to send their children to the training saying that it will be a waste of time for them, but now things have changed.

“In our school the training had started in the year 2006-7, and I remember how we had to talk to parents individually to convince them, but slowly when people realized how beneficial it is, they started sending their children to the training,” said Dibakar Kaman, a teacher associated with the Bokajan LP School which is located at Bokajan in the Dhemaji district.

(The author has received a travel support under the HICAP media grant)

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