Apr 28 - May 11, 2008

Natural disasters are one of the most uncertain and unknown threats to human life. Earthquakes, cyclones, hurricanes and Tsunamis all pose great challenges to the existence of humanity and have been taking many lives since time immemorial.

Earthquakes are one of the most dangerous natural calamities which occur due to the accumulation of heat energy inside the surface of earth as a result of which jolts are felt on the surface of earth. The jolts could be of high or low intensity and frequency depending on the amount of energy waves. Like other parts of the world, our country too has faced terrifying earthquakes many times, resulting in loss of precious human lives, infrastructure, and economy. The most disastrous of all earthquakes was the one on 8th October 2005, which claimed more than 70,000 precious lives and amongst those over 17,000 were children.

Investigations have revealed that the major reason for the rise in death toll amongst children was mainly due to the collapsing of school buildings. The reasons for collapsed buildings have mainly been found in use of low quality construction material, unplanned selection and construction of the school sites. It has been found that the schools were constructed without keeping in view the higher seismic risks of these locations.

Educational institutions, especially schools are considered to be the building blocks of progress and development for any country whereas the students are undoubtedly the future of the nation. The unwanted consequences of October 8th earthquake have posed newer challenges for the government and non-governmental organizations for planning safer and seismic free buildings, roads and schools. Notwithstanding the tragedies and losses to our country, we all stood as "one nation" to face those circumstances. Many volunteers from different private NGOs, schools, colleges, universities, local and international relief agencies and even individuals, all stood mobilized and actively involved in saving lives and helping them to survive in the best possible way.

Focus Humanitarian Assistance is an affiliate of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), which is an international group of agencies working in the fields of health, education, architecture, culture, microfinance, disaster reduction, rural development and the revitalization of historic cities. Amongst many other helping hands, the FOCUS, with its well equipped and highly trained relief facilities, was in the frontline relief operators who had even managed to reach the far flung areas which were not possible to be reached by road.

Another important agency working under the aegis of AKDN is the Aga Khan Planning and Building Service, Pakistan (AKPBS,P) which has a mandate of building the environment, especially housing design and construction, village planning, natural hazard alleviation, environmental cleanliness, water supplies, and other living conditions. AKPBS,P works on it's objectives through the stipulation of material and technical assistance and construction management services for rural and urban areas. AKDN is headed by His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th spiritual leader (Imam) of the Ismaili Muslims. This year has a very special significance for the Ismaili community around the world as they are celebrating it as the Golden Jubilee year of the golden 50 years of His Highness's Imamat and his untiring services for the humanity. As part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations, many events and important development projects have been planned by AKDN across the globe. In this regard, Focus Humanitarian Assistance Pakistan and the Aga Khan Planning and Building Service, Pakistan have collaborated with various other governmental and international development groups to organize a significant and much needed international conference on School Safety which will be held from14-16 May, 2008 in Islamabad. The basic concept of the conference has been derived after looking at the extent of loss of innocent lives of school children in the earthquake due to collapsed school buildings.

One must agree that after the terrible consequences of October 8th earthquake, it was the need of time that we plan and build safer schools in order to prevent the damages to the lives of innocent children from such intensity of natural disasters. The conference would help in gathering experts and highly experienced individuals people from around the world to discuss various aspects of seismic free schools and to formulate some viable and pragmatic solutions that can assist in developing seismic free and safer schools for the future generations in the country.

This is the high time to reflect and ensure that schools are built according to safety codes. Awareness is raised about safer schools and partnerships are developed to carry forward this important task in a way that we do not repeat experiences like that of 8th October.