NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 44

Schoolchildren in flooded regions in shock, disbelief

Muhammad Abbas looks at the reporter in shock, disbelief and surprise when he was asked whether he missed his school, and if he wanted to go to school.

He is an 8th grader at Government Elementary School Bolay Wala village in Rajanpur district of Punjab. The recent deluge swept away the entire village, including the mud house of Abbas, and badly damaged the school building. Now, the 13-year boy is living along with his parents and three siblings in a temporary shelter, provided by the district government.

The thought of returning to school does not move the teenager at all. “We all family members do not know if we will be able to get our next meal or not, and you are asking me when I will return to my school,” Abbas replies to the reporter in a bitter tone.

However, his younger sister, standing by him, seems amused by the thought of returning to her school. “I miss my school. Yes, I want to go to my school, and I want to meet my teacher and friends,” Zulekha Mai, a class-five student, tells the reporter.

One can find hundreds of thousands of such school-going children at temporary camps across the country, who do not know when they would be able to return to their school. According to a report, released by US-based non-governmental organisation ‘Save the Children’ in the first week of September, at least 18,590 schools have been damaged or destroyed in floods across the country, depriving millions of children of access to education. The initial estimates show that at least 670,000 children have been affected, although the real number could be much higher, says the report.

With whole villages submerged and continuous rains, thousands of students across the country, who had been preparing for the start of the academic year, have found their schools completely submerged, with books, blackboards, chairs and tables floating downstream.

Khuram Gondal, Save the Children’s Pakistan Country Director, told the media, “The scale of the damage we are seeing will prevent thousands of children from going back to school any time soon. We’ve seen entire buildings completely washed away. Children, already battling the shock and horror of what’s happening around them, now also have to cope with the loss of their classrooms and their safe place to learn. We know from experience that it takes time to repair schools, and many of these children have already missed months of education already because of COVID-19.

“We are calling on donors around the world to recognise the terrible situation in Pakistan and dig deep to help children. Beyond immediate life-saving supplies like shelters, food and water, we also need to establish emergency schools where children can go, be safe, and learn. Schools are vital for both children’s future and their current wellbeing – they are cherished environments and offer routine and stability amidst chaos.”

United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in its report said that children account for nearly half of the 33 million people affected by the catastrophic floods in Pakistan. Torrential rains killed more than 1,200 people, including 400 children, and demolished much of the infrastructure vital to children’s wellbeing and education. UNICEF Pakistan representative Abdullah Fadil said in a media statement that the affected children were among the most vulnerable in the country, adding that they live in the 72 hardest-hit districts. “The floods have displaced a large number of families and many children have become separated from their parents or caregivers.” Fadil said one of the most important tasks ahead was identifying, protecting, and ultimately reuniting the children with their families.

According to preliminary data from provincial education departments, 18,590 schools have been damaged or destroyed as a result of the emergency: 15,842 in Sindh, 544 in Balochistan, 1,180 in Punjab and 1,024 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Furthermore, at least 5,492 schools are being used to house displaced people.

Thousands of kilometres of road and dozens of bridges have been destroyed, further hindering access to schools and hospitals. Pakistan was already facing an education emergency before the flooding began, with more than 22.8 million children between the ages of 5 and 16 out of school nationwide. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the 72 worst-hit districts in the country already had high levels of poverty and impaired growth and development among children.