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PAKISTAN: Flood damaged schools lead to education worries

MUZAFFARGARH, 26 August 2010 (IRIN) - Piles of debris including bricks, bits of wood, concrete and broken household goods are becoming visible throughout flood-ravaged Muzaffargarh District in the southern province of Punjab, as the floodwater begins to recede.

Muzaffargarh city and the towns and villages around it were evacuated two weeks ago. Many of the 750,000 people forced to flee are now trickling back to try to resume some kind of normality.

In his village on the outskirts of Muzaffargarh city, Saleem Shahid, 13, with his parents and three siblings, rummaged through a pile of destroyed belongings in their house. The structure itself is badly damaged but still partially intact.

“I am looking for my school text books and pencils,” said Saleem, gazing at a few drenched, mud-stained pages in his hand. “If I can find even a few things I may be able to go back to school.”

Saleem’s father, Bakhtiar Ahmed, who lost two cows, and his maize and vegetable crops in the floods, told IRIN: “I don’t think we will be able to send the children back to their private school. It is impossible now to raise money for fees, books and uniforms - and I need their help to work the land.”

“It could be months before affected children can get back to school. This is both because of the impact of floods on families and on the school buildings. Those in better shape are being used as relief camps and may not be vacant for a long time,” an education department official in Muzaffargarh, who asked not to be named, told IRIN.

Maurizio Guiliano, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told IRIN from Islamabad that “8.6 million children under 18 are affected. We are very concerned about them because they are very vulnerable”.

“Running wild”

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 1.6 million children have been affected by damaged schools, or because the schools are being used as shelters. The UN agency has a six-month plan to meet schooling needs, starting in the first two months with the creation of temporary learning spaces in camps. “An assessment of damage to schools is now on so needs can be established," said UNICEF's emergency officer Fawwad Shah.

“The children are just running wild and roaming the streets. We need schools for them,” Zareena Bibi, 35, told IRIN at a camp where she and her three children have been since 14 August.

Temporary learning kits and recreational kits are being provided by relief workers and further educational interventions are planned.

“Parents are concerned about safe pastimes for children and want schooling so they don’t stray away from camps. The risk of flood-affected children being kidnapped by militants - raised by the president - has scared many,” said Dilawar Hasan, 65, a former school teacher now volunteering at several camps.

Thousands of schools damaged or destroyed

Estimates are still coming in as to the number of school structures affected. OCHA’s 23 August situation report said: “Some 7,820 schools are now reported to have been fully or partially damaged in Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) and Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PAK), and about 4,935 schools are being used as relief shelters. A decrease in the number of schools being used as shelters has been reported from KPK and Sindh.”

According to Save the Children US, over 5,500 schools have been damaged across the country, while 5,000 others are being used as shelters for displaced families.

Ian Wolverton, Save the Children’s spokesman in Pakistan, said in a statement on 20 August: “Rebuilding educational infrastructure after the water recedes is going to be a daunting task. The education sector of Pakistan, especially in the rural areas, had been poor even before the floods, but now the situation is particularly dire."

Sindh Professors and Lecturers Association (SPLA) General Secretary Iftikhar Aazmi has been quoted by the press as saying in Karachi that “all educational institutes of Sindh, except those of Karachi and Hyderabad, have been disturbed due to the floods.” There were around 26,000 private and public sector schools in the province before the floods, according to education department figures.

kh/at/cb

Theme (s): Children, Education, Natural Disasters,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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