Photo: RedR Australia/David O'Meara

Safe Schools for Solomon Islander Children

School children in the Solomon Islands will feel safer at their desks thanks to the work of civil engineer David O’Meara, who is making sure that schools damaged in the December 2016 earthquake are rebuilt to withstand future earthquakes and cyclones, and that all future education infrastructure is designed to withstand expected loadings too.

“This is also important because schools are traditionally used as evacuation centres when disasters strike or a cyclone is imminent,” David said.

“Many of the schools that were damaged were built with materials the local population are not able to maintain or inadequate bracing and buildings’ support piers buckled. We are revising the building materials to be more appropriate to the climate and construction environment,” he said and, in the process, revising the tender process to minimise variations and thereby saving government funds which can be spent on improving water and sanitation in all school facilities.

 

David was deployed to UNICEF and is supporting the Assets Management Division of the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development which is responsible for the repairing and remediation works to school buildings, partly funded by the Australian Government. The earthquake also damaged two hospitals and David is also providing advice to the Ministry of Health and Medical Services.

“I’m working closing with a great local team and this has provided the opportunity to ensure capacity building is a focus as well as making sure all school building designs are reviewed, updated and certified as being structurally adequate for expected loading events,” David said.

The Solomon Islands along with Vanuatu, Tonga and Papua New Guinea is regularly at the top of the leader table when it comes to the World Risk Index, a measure of how disaster prone a  country is and its capacity to cope with disaster.

On 9th December 2016, the archipelago was affected by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake which struck offshore near San Cristobal Islands. Several aftershocks followed, including earthquakes measuring 7.0 and 6.1 on the Richter scale. The Solomon Islands National Disaster Management Organisation reported 35 villages and 4052 people were affected. 118 families lost their homes and another 62 houses were damaged.

“Fourteen schools were damaged, many on the weather coast which is remote and can only be accessed by banana boat,” David said.

“Transportation of personnel and equipment requires beach landings in unpredictable  weather patterns so we are planning for all repairs and rebuilds to be  undertaken using locally available materials to minimize transport issues and, more importantly, to allow the local community to undertake maintenance and repairs themselves,” he said.

David and his team will also provide basic construction and maintenance training to local communities to increase their knowledge and resilience in the longer term

One of the greatest challenges of working in the Solomon Islands is navigating and managing resources across hundreds of islands David said. The archipelago is comprised of six major islands and more than 900 smaller islands.