Turkey: Education needs acute following earthquake

News and Press Release
Originally published
BINGOL, 5 May (IRIN) - Education was one of the first victims of last week's powerful earthquake in the eastern Turkish city of Bingol, which left 167 dead, and over 500 injured. More than 90 percent of the schools in the area were impacted by the quake, leaving thousands without facilities to continue their education.
Sebahattin Gamsiz, the acting director of the ministry of national education, told IRIN from the city on Monday that "31,493 students have been affected by this quake. We now need to rebuild." Of the 27 schools in the city, four had collapsed, nine would need to be torn down, 11 received light damage and three remained unscathed, the official said, noting that an additional 75 schools in the surrounding villages had yet to be fully assessed.

Commenting on the situation, Ricardo Mena, the team leader for the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team, which completed an assessment of the area on Sunday, told IRIN there would be an immediate short-term need for 500 classrooms if a disruption in children's education in the area were to be averted.

Based on the UNDAC assessment, whereas exact numbers had yet to be determined, assuming a classroom of 30 pupils, up to 15,000 pupils currently lacked education facilities.

Rising to the task, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is this week preparing to send 100 semi-winterised tents to the region, with an additional 60 to be purchased soon. Of the initial delivery, 97 will be given to the education ministry, while three will be supplied to the Turkish Agency for Social Services and Child Protection to provide day-care services to preschool children. Designed for education purposes, the 40-square-metre tents would alleviate some, but not all the immediate needs.

"The actual needs are much greater, so we need to raise funds fast," Sema Hosta, a UNICEF communications officer, told IRIN in the Turkish capital, Ankara. On Sunday, UNICEF issued a flash appeal for an initial amount US $450,000 to address the immediate needs of those affected.

According to Hosta, one of the most important needs was to provide psychosocial support to children and their families affected by the quake. "The children were traumatised by the quake, and through this means, we hope to help them return to normalcy," Hosta explained.

Echoing that point with caution, Dr William Matthews, a psychologist and psychosocial delegate for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told IRIN from Bingol it was too early to tell. "Obviously, the people that lost families or kids that were at the schools, or among the 14 surrounding villages affected, will have a lasting impact for a long time," the expert said, noting that a grieving process and sense of loss which would have to be dealt with.

He explained, however, that while many people in the area might be experiencing some fear and trauma about returning to their homes, he predicted many of them would return to them in a week or two. "With most people, especially with children, it's not a long-lasting effect unless people start to make them victims," he warned.

"What the children need now is some stability in their lives," he explained, adding that with most of them, even those who had been through the most severe things, if they could normalise, go back to what they were doing before, be supported and given bit of time, there was hope.

Meanwhile, hope ended on Sunday as rescuers retrieved the last body from the rubble of the Celtiksuyu boarding school, 20 km from Bingol city, and the worst-affected facility of all. Of the 198 students sleeping in its dormitory, 114 were rescued alive and 84 killed. The five-story structure, built in 1998 in the rural agricultural community, collapsed within seconds when the quake, measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale, struck early on Thursday morning.

Its collapse has raised media speculation throughout the country that similar schools, as well as other public buildings, might also be at risk. Whereas Turkey's building and construction codes are rigid, implementation of those same rules is often nonexistent. In the two separate earthquakes to rip through western Turkey in 1999, killing close to 20,000 people, 131 schools collapsed.

According to UNICEF, there are 247 boarding schools such as the one in Celtiksuyu in the country, the vast majority of them in eastern and southeastern Anatolia, with over 130,000 students, 25 percent of whom are girls. Dormitories at such facilities are used to house children of poor rural families whose villages have no schools of their own.

As a matter of priority, the education ministry is keen to reopen the schools as soon as possible, with 12 May given as a tentative date for some classes to resume.


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