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International Medical Corps Prepares Earthquake-prone Communities in Jordan through Disaster Risk Reduction Program

In 1927, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake in Jordan buried 200 people and caused massive damage. Although subsequent earthquakes have tended to be relatively moderate, Jordan’s Dead Sea Rift Valley remains particularly vulnerable to natural hazards and experiences frequent seismic activity. Given the region’s high population growth and density, the poor economic status of its inhabitants, and physical infrastructure vulnerabilities, any earthquake—even a mild one — has the potential to cause serious humanitarian and economic impacts.

To strengthen local capacity to respond to natural hazards like earthquakes and floods, International Medical Corps, in cooperation with UNICEF and the Jordanian Ministry of Education (MoE), began implementing a Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) project in February 2012 focused on earthquake-prone areas in three southern governorates of Jordan: Balqa (South Shouna), Aqaba (central Aqaba and Wadi Araba), and Karak (South Aghwar). This year-long project targets 24 of the most vulnerable schools in these areas and their surrounding communities in order to prepare them for potential disasters.

Between June and July 2012, International Medical Corps conducted 7 DRR trainings in targeted areas, training a total of 197 participants including: central and local government authorities (focal points from MoE, Jordan Civil Defense (JCD), Ministry of Interior (MoI); school principals, students, and teachers; and local community members. The trainings provided participants with comprehensive knowledge of disaster preparedness, response and recovery.  Participants were also trained in how to plan and implement DRR awareness activities and community-based DRR projects.

“We were happy to see such a high-level of commitment to the training among the participants, both community members and local authorities,” says Ms. Al-Saaideh, International Medical Corps’ DRR Project Manager and DRR training facilitator. “Although the training was very strenuous for them, given its duration as well as high temperatures outside, we were positively surprised by the high attendance of the participants and their active engagement in the DRR activities.”

Each training lasted three days and provided participants with both theoretical knowledge of DRR measures, including psychological first aid sessions, and practical exercises, such as firefighting simulations and evacuation drills. All exercises were supervised by technical experts from the JCD. In addition, International Medical Corps ensured that all trainings were gender-sensitive and included vulnerable groups, especially women, in acknowledgment of their unique role in disaster mitigation and decision-making in building communities’ resilience.

According to Ms. Al-Saaideh:

“The practical part of the training was the most awaited one, as many of the participants did not know before how to use a first aid kit or properly operate fire extinguishers. Participants especially welcomed the evacuation drill exercise, during which they learned how to evacuate the building in a timely and panic-free manner. This exercise sparked a vivid discussion among the participants, as they recollected the 2004 minor earthquake in Karak governorate that resulted in a huge panic among people evacuating the schools, leaving many of them injured and traumatized.”

“A great proportion of training participants constituted local community members with very limited previous DRR experience. For most of them it was the first time they received such a comprehensive DRR training,” says Dr. Bawaneh, International Medical Corps’ Director of Mental Health and Psychosocial and DRR training facilitator. “I believe what makes this training so different from others is our innovative approach; we link the physical impact of a disaster (destruction of physical infrastructure) with its psychological impact on people. For instance, during the practical part of the DRR training, in addition to the evacuation drill exercises, participants are provided with the psychological first aid training. It empowers them, as they become more aware of the disaster’s impact on their own and colleagues’ psychological health, and are better able to cope with it.”

The trainings resulted in establishing DRR school committees tasked with drafting DRR plans for the schools in consultation with representatives of JCD and MoI. In the future, DRR school committees will become sustainable entities responsible for the regular implementation of DRR community-based activities in the schools with and among surrounding communities to raise DRR awareness before and after disasters strike. This approach will build on and strengthen local capacities, creating more resilient communities in the long run.