Mashhad, Iran’s holiest city, is a provincial capital of some 2.7 million people in the country’s northeast, close to the borders with Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Lying in an earthquake-prone region, it joined UNISDR’s Making Cities Resilient network in 2010, and has won plaudits for its efforts to foster a risk reduction mindset amongst youngsters in its schools.
Mashhad’s Safety Bell Project is fuelled by the knowledge that while children are among the most vulnerable groups in disasters, their natural curiosity and receptivity means that they can learn how to prepare if they are provided with the right opportunities to do so. In addition, as conduits of ideas between the school and home, children can help convey the concept of risk reduction to their families, to the benefit of wider society. The role of youngsters is therefore pivotal. Under the Safety Bell umbrella, local schools hold regular drills, as well as child-friendly events that use song, puppetry and theatre to teach safety concepts that increase the pupils’ capability to survive in a disaster and help others to do so too. Since the the municipality launched its disaster risk reduction drive in 2003, more than 6,000 children have received training. In parallel to the programme focused on youngsters, their older peers at high schools take part in the Rescue Angels Project, with volunteers receiving training as firefighters and rescue workers. The project, implemented in 120 schools, has helped Mashhad cut the loss of life and property. Every November 29, meanwhile, pupils of all ages across the city take part in high-profile earthquake maneuvers that involve taking cover, coping with emergency exit and evacuation, triage, and dealing with secondary disaster impacts such as fires.
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