Millions of children across Bangladesh will take part in a nationwide earthquake drill on 13-14 October.
Over 30,000 schools are conducting the drills under the government’s Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP) funded by the UN Development Programme; they will coincide with the International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction (13 October).
“This is to ensure discipline in case a major earthquake strikes,” Kamal Abdul Naser Chowdhury, secretary of the Ministry of Education (MoE), told IRIN. “Discipline is important during any emergency.”
The drills - the largest in the country’s history, and covering both primary and secondary schools - aim to better prepare students in the event of a real disaster.
The drills will prepare students to save themselves, as well as act as volunteers to help others in the event of an actual quake, Chowdhury said.
Of the schools carrying out the drills, 480 are in the capital, Dhaka, which is deemed ill-prepared for earthquakes due to lack of awareness and unplanned urbanization. Drills for schools in Dhaka will be held on 14 October.
With a population of more than 15 million, Dhaka ranks among the 20 most vulnerable cities in terms of earthquakes in the world today, with a major fault line less than 60km from the city, says the World Bank.
A strong earthquake could take a major toll in densely populated, low-lying Bangladesh, which is prone to natural disasters, including cyclones, floods and landslides, say experts.
Bangladesh is surrounded by regions of high seismicity and is exposed to a high risk of a moderate-to-strong quake.
According to a seismic zoning map by the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, 43 percent of the country is rated high risk, 41 percent moderate risk and 16 percent low risk.
Almost 1,200 of Dhaka’s 2,700 schools are highly vulnerable to a moderate earthquake. Schools in cities like Chittagong and Sylhet and in the north are also vulnerable, according to a CDMP study.
MoE’s Chowdhury said the drills would create “a real time scenario” in schools from which the students could learn how to protect themselves in the event of a real earthquake. “This campaign… is going to have a major impact on our disaster preparedness.”