In times of severe drought such as in the Sahel or East Africa, food funding often takes priority over other needs like education, yet children who miss out on learning remain vulnerable to future disasters, said British aid group Save the Children.
"There is a lack of understanding. Decision-makers don't necessarily believe that education should be included in emergency response - education can be a platform to end crises," said Elin Martinez, co-author of a 2012 report, A Creeping Crisis: The neglect of education in slow-onset emergencies by the NGO.
This year, only 18 percent of the required $30 million in education funding was received for Somalia, the country worst affected by a harsh drought in the Horn of Africa in 2011. Donors have given just four percent of the $9.7 million needed for education in Mali, which has been disrupted by conflict and displacements.
Most schools in northern Mali have been looted or torched, and 80 percent of the education staff has fled to the south of the country. In the Islamist-controlled regions of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal, education has been suspended. Displaced and refugee school children receive little or no education.
Education that incorporates lessons in environmental conservation, better farming practices and other skills gives children the knowledge to be innovative and cope better with disasters later on in life, Save the Children argued in its report on education funding during crises.
"The humanitarian answers need to include more than what we need for a daily life. We need to look forward. We need to go beyond life saving, and to build the resilience of children and their communities to cope with future droughts, and secure learning that is relevant to children's needs to get the entire picture," said Martinez.
The educational needs in the Malian crisis are huge. According the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), more than 53 percent of refugees are children and two-thirds of them should be at school. The UN Education Cluster for Mali estimates that 80 percent of Malian refugee children of primary school age do not have access to education, and 27 percent of displaced students are likely to drop out of school.
In neighbouring Burkina Faso, where the highest number of Malians forced from their homes by conflict and hunger are sheltering, many of the students living in the camps there are no longer going to school.
"I'm really sad that I can't continue my studies and sit exams. What worries me most is that I don't know when I'll ever resume studies," 18-year-old Fati Walat Haibala told aid group Plan International in Ferério camp in northern Burkina Faso.
Education remains poorly funded in all UN Consolidated Appeal Processes for humanitarian aid. Only seven percent of the $17.8 million needed for education in the Sahel crisis has been donated.
"It is alarming that discussions about how to mitigate drought in east Africa and in the Sahel have failed to incorporate education as part of the key interventions and strategies," Save the Children noted in its report.
Efforts have been made to offer schooling to the displaced and refugee children. Mali's education ministry has offered catch-up classes and reintegration of displaced children. In Burkina Faso and Niger, education for refugee children is seriously limited.
"Schools in Burkina cannot absorb the children," said Sylvana Nzirorera, the deputy head of UNICEF in Burkina Faso. In Mauritania, no education is offered to children.
Most of the children affected by the drought in East Africa and the Sahel are from pastoralist communities, where school attendance is already low due to their nomadic way of life. Droughts further disrupt learning as families have to migrate over long distances in search of water, food and pasture. Save the Children said nomadic communities may also perceive education as undermining social institutions and altering social learning.
"More adapted means have to be offered to serve the needs of the nomads. There is a conflict between the formal academic calendar and their migratory lifestyle," Martinez said, pointing out that the situation often recurs, but no viable solutions have been applied.
"They often fall off the response. Extra funding is needed to make sure we are targeting them the right way."