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Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

Schools have closed

28 November 2012

By Elin Martinez

It is hurricane, cyclone, flood and storm season around the world. Hurricane Sandy has attracted most of the attention given the impact it has had along the Eastern Coast of the United States and the Caribbean. However, it is the peak season for natural disasters in many other countries too. To name a few, India, Vietnam, Philippines, as well as other countries in South and South-East Asia. These countries have been responding to natural disasters on an almost monthly basis.

For example, more than 134 thousand people in Bangladesh have been affected by the monsoon; in Myanmar, over 236 thousand people are estimated to have been affected by the floods.

Whenever disasters strike, all children, no matter where, are vulnerable. However, there is an obvious inequality in a child’s chances of going back to school. In the US, some children may miss a few days of school. In many other countries, a few days out of school may end up meaning a few months or even a year. As a recent Brookings Institution blog has said very clearly, we will never ensure that all children are able to go to school and learn, without ensuring that education if given proper attention in the wake of natural emergencies.


Education is hit hard

 When disasters strike, education can be hit hard in some of the poorest countries in the world.  This may range from a handful of schools in a particularly hit area; it may affect many schools as a preventive measure; and, in some cases, it may apply to a wider number of schools –particularly in cases where schools are being used as shelter.

 And when you think disaster it does not necessarily have to be the dramatic cyclone. Water is definitely the core theme of the current disasters, but the opposite –drought—is what continues to affect many countries in West and East Africa (with the exception of parts of Mali and Niger which are now affected by floods).

 In these contexts, schools  have not opened to be able to cater to and/or absorb high numbers of children who have become displaced. In a handful of countries there is an acute teacher shortage and plans are beginning to be put in place to cater to the growing children-of-school-age population. In a country like Mali, the Education Cluster has reported that schools have been vandalized, looted or destroyed as armed groups sought their way around particularly fragile areas. Recovering these schools will take longer – and the longer we wait, the more children are likely to drop out.


Where’s the funding?

 Despite the hugely detrimental impact of natural disasters on children’s schooling and their chances to learn, the international community still has its head in the sand.  It still drags its heels when it comes to ensuring that humanitarian aid is used to prevent children from dropping out and enabling children to continue their learning no matter what  – with all the long term consequences that this has for themselves and their communities.

 Earlier this year we published A Creeping Crisis: the neglect of education in slow-onset emergencies. The report outlined education is not receiving a fair share of humanitarian funding; this is perhaps because humanitarian decision makers were neglecting the role of education in a long-term humanitarian response, but they were also failing to attach importance to the impact of the droughts and malnutrition crisis on education.

 This month we have looked again at some of the humanitarian Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP, led by the UN) for the same countries. The CAPs are a good indicator of the prioritization that often affects lesser funded sectors such as education. Almost 10 months later, education has only received 7% of its overall needs – that is 1.2 million USD out of 17.8 million that are needed in Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.


 Schools should be open


 Last month, a number of key agencies and governments including UN-OCHA, the Global Partnership on Education, the governments of Norway, Denmark and Qatar, to name a few, endorsed Education Cannot Wait: Call to Action, reaffirming their commitment to protect and uphold all children and youth’s right to a quality education in humanitarian emergencies.

In the long-term, if the Call to Action were implemented, schools would remain open because they would have the funding that is needed to continue without interruptions; they would be protected from attacks; and the impact of the emergency would be mitigated because disaster risk reduction plans would be in place to ensure schools, teachers children and communities are prepared.

In the short-term, we need tangible actions that stem out of the implementation of the Call to Action. The commitment to elevate education in emergencies so that it receives equal status as other priorities in government and donor humanitarian policies, seems the most obvious place to start. This is potentially the way to release funding, as more countries realize the importance of ensuring education and learning opportunities continue uninterrupted.

As the US recovers from the impact of hurricane Sandy, children’s education will have only been interrupted for a few days. We must make sure that children everywhere are entitled to exactly the same feeling of knowing they can go back to school once the tempest has passed.


A shorter version of this blog is available here.