Suva, Fiji Islands
March 15, 2000
TUVALU AFTERMATH: KEEP SCHOOLS SAFE
The horrific fire, which claimed 19 lives on Tuvalu at the weekend, provides an invaluable lesson and a timely reminder for the education system.
It is a tragedy that must not be allowed to be repeated in Tuvalu, Fiji or any other country.
Nobody would want to experience the tremendous grief felt by the parents and relatives of the girls of Vaitupu High School.
While hearts reach out to the grieving relatives, questions must be asked.
The Tuvalu government's response to the tragedy has been swift.
A commission of inquiry has been set up to investigate the cause of the fire.
It is unfair to apportion blame until the commission completes its investigations.
However, initial reports point to the fact that the dormitories were not new.
And there appear to have been insufficient measures in place to fight the blaze.
The same can be said of many, if not all, boarding schools in this country.
Two years ago a fire at Bemana in Navosa claimed the life of a primary school student.
The girl was at boarding school, not by choice, but because it is not feasible for most villages in the area to have their own schools.
There were no fire extinguishers in the dormitory.
Light in many of these schools is provided by kerosene lamps or candles, both potential fire hazards in the hands of children.
There is no adult supervision in the dormitories.
Similar situations exist in Yasawa, in the interior of Ba and in other rural areas.
The larger boarding institutions such as Queen Victoria School, Ratu Kadavulevu and Adi Cakobau have dormitories that are more than 40 years old.
No fire drills are carried out, there are no alarm systems in the buildings and teachers live up to 400 meters (13,200 feet) from the boarding facilities.
With the recent introduction of Occupational Health and Safety regulations it is timely for the Education Ministry to set standards for schools to follow.
Students must be taught what to do in emergencies.
They must have sufficient fire extinguishers and hoses with which to fight fires.
Smoke detectors must be placed in school residential areas. Fire escapes must be put in place and clearly marked.
Schools which do not meet the required safety standards should be shut down.
Nobody deserves to die such a horrible death.
Action must be taken now to ensure that such a tragedy does not occur on our shores.
Back to Headlines