Education saves lives: Chilean educational communities prepare for tsunamis

April 2014 - The 8.8 Richter earthquake and subsequent tsunami that occurred in 2010 in Central-Southern Chile, not only proved the force of nature, but also the need for more information in order to handle these disasters. These skills needed to be developed, and UNESCO was there to help.

The morning of February 27, 2010, will not be forgotten in Chile. At 3:34 am millions of Chileans in the Central and Southern regions experienced an earthquake that was stronger than any felt for decades, and a destructive tsunami affected towns, ports and beaches along at least 500 kilometres of coastline. More than 500 people died or disappeared in both catastrophes, events which left hundreds wounded.

Months of reconstruction and evaluation made it clear that there was a need for educational materials, preparation strategies, prevention and training for these events. Chileans were vulnerable, and in a country with more than 4,000 kilometres of coastline, knowing how to react is the difference between life and death.

Action for prevention

Before this disaster, the UNESCO Regional Bureau of Education for Latin America and the Caribbean was already working on an educational project for disaster risk management. After the events, UNESCO rebuilt schools and worked on the psychosocial recovery of the educational communities affected.

Additionally, UNESCO prioritised the preparation of educational materials to train teachers on how to reduce risks in the event of a tsunami, and this activity was part of the Disaster Preparation Programme (DIPECHO) in South America of the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department. This work was done in collaboration with the Chilean Ministry of Education and advising from SHOA, the Chilean Geology Society and the Chilean National Office of Emergencies (ONEMI).

The educational materials, prepared by UNESCO with the support of the Interactive Centre of Science, Art and Technology of the University of Concepción, were applied in schools in Coronel, Penco and Tomé, towns close to the epicentre in the region of Biobío that had been affected by the tsunami. Given their positive experience, the Ministry of Education adopted them as official materials for pre-school, elementary and high school students.

In its second phase, the initiative was taken to 144 schools located in flood zones in the North of Chile. The Ministry of Education continued its training and as of mid-2014, schools in 13 of the 15 regions in Chile have already received training.

Ana María Ramírez, of the Educational Transversality Unit of the Chilean Ministry of Education, during the “Sub-regional Workshop on Strategies for the Inclusion of Disaster Risk Management in the Education Sector”, held in Peru, indicated that: “we are very pleased that Chile has made such progress on its curriculum regarding prevention topics, and these topics are also within the learning objectives in terms of self-protection and risk prevention”.   

Workshop in Iquique, northern Chile.

Given its coverage and quality, this educational strategy has been considered a model for other countries. The initiative won the “DIPECHO Contest on Experiences and Best Practices”, under the category of replicability, and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) translated the texts into English to be used by its education experts.

Although this prize is important, the greatest recognition is the ability to save lives. “These efforts take on importance when looking at their results throughout the community. In the regions of Arica-Parinacota, Antofagasta and Tarapacá, which were affected by an earthquake on April 1, 2014 in the north of Chile, preventative information has permeated the entire society, and it is of vital use when these phenomena occur”, highlighted Astrid Hollander, specialist from the programme on education for sustainable development, vocational and professional education and education on emergency situations of UNESCO Santiago.

Video (in Spanish)

More information


Astrid Hollander
Programme Specialist in Education for Sustainable Development, Technical and Vocational Education and Education in Emergency Situations

Mario Calderón
"Reduciendo el riesgo a través de la educación y la ciencia” Project Coordinator

Carolina Jerez
Public information / Digital contents

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