Development of prefabricated schools as emergency response

Raju Shrestha, UNICEF China | 18 June 2009 | 0 comments

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0263/Jia Zhao

This was originally published as an Innovation document by Raju Shrestha, Chief, Supply and Procurement, UNICEF China

Summary
On 12 May 2008, a massive earthquake struck Wenchuan County, Sichuan Province, affecting also the adjoining provinces of Gansu, Shaanxi, Yunnan, and Chongqing. It caused extensive damage to infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, roads and water systems, hitting children especially hard. More than 12,000 schools were damaged or destroyed. In the initial stages of the emergency, UNICEF provided 1,200 school tents enabling 56,000 children to go back to school., and psychosocial support. 

Programme Staff, Provincial Education Officials and Supply Section conducted a joint assessment visit to one of the most severely affected counties, in a remote mountainous area that is subject to severe winters with heavy snowfall. The team found that schools in this and similar remote areas were not in the reconstruction plan of the Government in the near future, which would deprive children from these areas of proper schooling.

UNICEF China collaborated with UNHCR to develop and procure prefabricated classrooms as the most appropriate and sustainable method of getting local children back to school.
By the end of 2008, 100 prefab classrooms had been manufactured and constructed.

Innovation
Globally, UNICEF has provided school tents to help get millions of children back to school following emergencies. In most cases tents are a satisfactory response, since new schools are built within the life-span of the tents (two years max). However, in many countries, reconstruction can last for years. Where this can be predicted, the prefabricated classroom option is better in the long run. Though the cost of the prefabricated classrooms are high compared to school tents, the prefab lasts for a longer period, withstands severe weather and most importantly provides psychological support to the children affected by the emergency.
The innovation here is twofold and consists of (a) the use of prefabricated buildings as temporary school structures and (b) the design of the prefabs themselves.

Potential application
The prefab classroom concept can be transferred to any emergency situation. The design can also be used for health centres, child friendly spaces, etc.

UNICEF China can provide specifications, advice and also procurement support for other countries, especially during emergencies, and to this end has established Long Term Arrangements with the manufacturers.

For drawings and photos, see Annex 01.

Issue
On 12 May 2008, a massive earthquake struck Sichuan Province, leaving 88,000 people dead or missing and 400,000 injured. It damaged or destroyed millions of homes, left five million people homeless, and caused extensive damage to infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, roads and water systems. The earthquake hit children especially hard, damaging more than 12,000 schools (40 per cent of schools in Sichuan). It struck during the early afternoon when virtually every child in the province was in class.

In the initial stages of the emergency, UNICEF provided 1200 school tents enabling 56,000 children to get back to school, and psychosocial support. However, many of the damaged schools were located in very remote mountainous areas, subject to very severe winters. These schools were not in the reconstruction plan of the Government in the near future, and tents were unsuitable in the climactic conditions.

UNICEF China collaborated with UNHCR to develop and procure prefabricated classrooms as the most appropriate method of getting local children back to school.

The following were the key reasons for the intervention:
  • Schools in these mountainous areas were not in the immediate reconstruction plan of the Government 
  • Tents were not a practical solution because of severe weather conditions
  • Psychologically, prefabs provide a heightened feeling of safety for children affected by the emergency
  • The structure will last for at least 8 to 10 years
  • Most importantly to enable children from these mountainous areas to get back to school as soon as possible

Strategy

Based on the findings from the joint assessment visit, Supply Section contacted other UN agencies and partners to see if there were any appropriate designs available, but in vain. UNICEF and UNHCR therefore worked together to develop an appropriate design. The key parameters used for the design were the following:
  • Maximum size of the classroom to accommodate 50 children with the possibility of partition to break the space into more classrooms
  • Capable of withstanding severe weather; like wind, rain and snow, and conforming to at least minimum safety standards
  • Able to provide children a psychological feeling of safety
  • Structure to last for at least 8 to 10 years, by which time alternate more permanent school structures will have been built
  • Active market research was done, potential manufacturers identified, and factory inspections were conducted by a third party inspection company before procurement was initiated.

Progress and results

As of end December 2008, more than 100 prefab classrooms were constructed. Initial feedback from the counterpart has been very positive. 

Constraints include:

  • the initial cost of the prefab schools is expensive compared to school tents. 
  • transportation to very remote areas, with very poor road access was difficult.

Next steps

Monitoring of the installation and use of the prefab schools will be conducted by June 2009. The Supply Section will be working in the development of a package for electrification of the schools using solar power.

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