Quake Awareness in Uzbekistan Given a Shake-Up

Search and rescue training for pilot rescue team in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

In Uzbekistan, a country sometimes prone to catastrophic seismic events, a UNDP project is raising awareness about the risk to ordinary people while strengthening emergency response capacity.

In the country’s historic capital, Tashkent, memories of the 26 April 1966 earthquake, one of Uzbekistan’s largest, still linger in the minds of some people. Affecting an estimated 100,000 people and causing considerable damage to infrastructure, the earthquake led to stronger initiatives to reduce risk.

Main Components to the Projects

  • Strengthening the capacity of the government and communities to mitigate the impact of disasters in Tashkent and other parts of the country
  • Expand community based disaster risk reduction activities; and
  • Enhance the capacity of the United Nations Country Team to effectively support the Government in the event of an emergency

To support these initiatives, UNDP has helped the government undertake a range of measures to increase awareness amongst specialists and the general population. Amongst these measures is an earthquake simulator to train professionals, a mobile phone app that provides emergency information after a quake, a museum for the public on earthquake resistant technologies, and a special movie theatre to screen public awareness films.

The ‘Strengthening Disaster Risk Management Capacities in Uzbekistan’ project is a four year initiative being implemented jointly by UNDP and the Ministry of Emergency Situations. With the goal of developing capacity to prevent, prepare for and recovery from disasters, the project targets the Government, civil society and the UN Country Team with capacity building, while raising community awareness to the risks.

“It’s possible that Uzbekistan may again experience a major earthquake that affects thousands of people and causes damage to both infrastructure and the economy,” says Amir Khan, UNDP’s National Disaster Reduction Advisor in Uzbekistan. “This project is a response to that risk; while seismic activity cannot be prevented, we can be better prepared.”

Recently, the project undertook a simulation exercise to test emergency response and earthquake preparedness. Attended by the disaster and emergency response reps from UN agencies and the Uzbek Red Crescent Society, the simulation helped build response skills and showed where further training was needed to better save lives.

To complement the simulation, UNDP helped train and equip Government emergency response units, as well as helped develop a seismic map of Tashkent city. The mapping exercise was achieved through support to the Institute of Seismology at the Academy of Sciences.

Reflecting on the 1966 quake, one of the primary reasons for the severe damage was the poorly constructed adobe buildings, which were not seismically secure. Since then, many of these have been replaced. To enourage safer construction skills going forward, the project has published guidelines in both Russian and Uzbek, which provide guidance on the construction of safer homes. The guidelines were coupled with the release of a documentary film: “Basic rules before, during and after an earthquake”, which was produced and aired on national television stations. Currently the project is working on a second documentary film to be released later in 2013.

To help increase awareness amongst children, often the most vulnerable to earthquakes due to their lack of understanding, the project has made a cartoon film. In it, a boy and his dog play the roles of rescuers and teach their peers about what to do during an earthquake.

“The Government of Uzbekistan are very keen to strengthen DRR measures and have recently passed a decree on building community awareness to earthquakes,” notes Khan. “UNDP will continue to support these initiatives and we are looking forward to unveiling our museum, movie cinema and simulator in the coming year.”

To learn more about UNDP’s global initiatives to reduce seismic risk, download our new report on protecting development from disasters.