Organised by the Education in Emergency Cluster in Bangladesh, the UNICEF-supported consultation was attended by Dr. Md. Asraful Amin, Minister for Primary and Mass Education, as the chief guest and two Secretaries as special guests: Md. Mokhlesur Rahman, Ministry of Food and Disaster Management and Abu Alam Md. Shahid Khan, (Secretary in-charge) Ministry of Primary and Mass Education. Nabendra Dahal, UNICEF Chief of Education; Saima Anwar, Deputy Country Director, Save the Children UK and Farah Kabir, Country Director ActionAid were also present.
A recent study conducted by the cluster highlights children's vulnerability in the aftermath of natural disaster. Among the key findings, it was revealed that over 120,000 primary schools were damaged by floods and 50,000 by cyclones in between 1971 to 2007. More than 1.5 million children have been put out of schools due to cyclone Sidr and Aila, the study estimated.
Saima Anwar from Save the Children UK, the agency that co-leads the cluster, said: "Children are often displaced and left vulnerable when floods or cyclones strike. Most of the schools are damaged and books lost. The rest of the schools are usually turned into shelters. Once we think it's time to restart schools, we have already lost a big number of children".
According to the recent research by the education cluster, recovery cost for education has a significant impact on the national budget. During 2004 to 2007, three disasters alone caused BDT 11,196 million in losses, causing significant diversion of resources off education. This is like a double blow on education blocking development of human capital.
Insisting on adopting the proactive approach, UNICEF Education Chief Nabendra Dahal, said: "Reopening schools should no longer be an afterthought to emergency
Responses. Education should be firmly integrated in the disaster preparations, so that children do not lose a single day just because we have not thought well about it in advance."
Discussing how important early recovery is for children, ActionAid Country Director Farah Kabir said: "The only way to help children recover from the shock and destruction is sending them back to schools. Children do not recover until they get their books back and they could restart their schooling. In fact, they remain vulnerable to trafficking, violence and abuses as long as they are outside the schools."
The consultation has recommended some key action points for the government consideration, such as:
- Sustainable school infrastructure: while building schools avoid places such as wet/marshy lands, river bank/lakeside, vulnerable to high wind or water surge. The building materials need to be robust and disaster resistant, too.
- Need for alternative shelter: The schools used as shelter remain totally closed for months causing severe interruption in education delivery. Even when schools are ready for restart, damages made to the school furniture and materials are too important to re-open classes quickly.
- Adequate budget: ensuring adequate support from public agencies to reconstruct/repair damaged schools in time and with quality is very crucial.
The consultation ended with an urgent call to integrate education across the disaster preparation, risk reduction, response and recovery spectrum. Participants stressed the need for a proper coordination among the ministries of Education, Primary and Mass Education and Disaster and at all levels - community, district and central.
Notes to the editor
1. Education in Emergency Cluster: Education in Emergency (EiE) Cluster was born after Sidr when few agencies active in the field of education came together to initiate coordinated response. The Cluster has now turned into a forum with around 30 members from Government, UN Agencies, INGO, national and local NGOs.Co-led by UNICEF and Save the Children UK, this coordination mechanism aims at ensuring that education of children is restored at the earliest opportunity and that agency responses are coordinated, more coherent, effective and avoid duplication and gaps. Moreover, it works towards building education system-wide capacity and preparedness at both national and local level.
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