Pakistan: Nearly all schools in Ziarat town destroyed by recent quake

QUETTA, 23 November 2008 (IRIN) - School buildings were among the structures worst affected by the 6.4 earthquake that hit the town of Ziarat, Balochistan Province, and surrounding areas in October 2008.

Balochistan Education Minister Shafiq Ahmed Khan said: "The earthquake destroyed 98 percent of educational institutions in Ziarat, 50 percent in Loralai and Pishin, and 25 percent in Quetta." There were about 150 primary, secondary and high schools in Ziarat. Most have been damaged.

Khan told IRIN: "Repair work cannot start immediately because of weather conditions."

Ziarat District, about 100km north of Quetta, has experienced freezing winds and sub-zero temperatures over the past few days, and the Meteorological Office is forecasting further temperature falls in the coming days.

"The fact that children can't go to school is having a negative impact on education," Khan said, adding that funds were needed to repair schools. The Balochistan government has sought help from the central government.

Call for investigation

Why were school buildings so badly affected? After all, most of the houses that fell were mud and wood structures; schools are usually of sturdier constructions.

need an investigation into why so many were damaged," said Asad Zaheer, a Quetta-based architect advocating quake-safe buildings in seismic zones. The government said at least 5,000 schools were destroyed in the 2005 quake. NGOs, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) have said that poor construction and the use of substandard materials was responsible for the collapse of so many buildings.

Temporary learning centres

At a meeting of education organisations on 10 November in Quetta and organised by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), it was decided that temporary learning centres would be established at the 30 worst-affected schools in Pishin District. These would be set up and run by the provincial education department with help from the UNICEF-supported Primary Education Support Programme. But even as these efforts got under way, children remain out of school.

"I was in my final year at school. But now the school has shut down because there are cracks in the ceiling, and I am worried this will affect my education and the matriculation examination I must take next year," said Palvashay Kausar, 16, in Ziarat. Although she and her six siblings emerged unscathed from the quake, she said: "The children have no focus as there are no schools. So they feel quite lost."

Informal efforts to educate children have begun. Zeenat Bibi, 40, a school teacher and mother of three, gathers a group of 20 children in her porch each morning to teach them English.

"We can't go indoors because of the continuing tremors, even though it is very cold," she said. However, she believes the government needs to do more to get children back to school, so "normal life can resume".