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The vital debate – education in emergencies

A right, a request and a responsibility — yet still too often ignored. Packed in a room at the Overseas Development Institute, the Humanitarian Practice Network and Save the Children hosted a vital debate on Education in Emergencies.

“After the earthquake in Haiti, the challenge was to re-open schoolssaid Pierre Michel Laguerre, Director General of Haiti’s Ministry of Education.“There were many difficulties, 80% of schools were not public, and the government needed help in this sector.”

Last year, over 2 million children were caught up in emergencies – floods, earthquakes, cyclones, conflict and drought. Their classrooms destroyed, teachers killed or fled, the year unfinished, their personal development interrupted. Suraiya Begum, Bangladesh’s Additional Secretary for Primary and Mass Education explained: “There is no month in our disaster calendar which is free from risk. Flooding is reported almost every year, we have experienced two major cyclones, and on average 900 schools are devastated each year”.

An emergency affects a community in multiple ways — resulting in multiple needs, and requiring an integrated response. “If education services are disrupted, as we know they are in multiple emergencies, restoring this essential service has to be part of our collective effort,”said Greg Ramm, Save the Children’s Director of Global Programmes. “But funding for education in emergencies is downright dire,” Ramm said. “In 2009 only 31% of the humanitarian need for education was met, compared to 71% of overall humanitarian need.”

After an emergency, children and young people ask for assistance to get back to school. Their parents want this too — a safe space for their children to play, learn and develop. Adults need to get on with finding relatives, burying their dead, queuing for aid distributions and enrolling in cash-for-work schemes. Parents worry about the risk of further harm, exploitation or trafficking; they need to know their children are being looked after and getting the best chance in life. The request is loud and clear. And humanitarian principles demands that we listen and respond — as laid out in the ICRC/NGO Code of Conduct and the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership.

Many emergencies are cyclical, and relief aid has a responsibility to reduce further vulnerabilities to disaster, as well as meet basic needs. Disaster risk reduction (DRR) is one of the most effective ways (including as part of an emergency response) to reduce future risk, promote a culture of prevention and increase preparedness — and education is an important tool for DRR, through lessons, curricula and safer school buildings.

For too many young people, the crisis does not pass in a few days — weeks turn to years. In Northern Kenya, children have spent their whole lives in camps, in an area affected by conflict, drought and constant displacement. Yet the benefits of an education extend far beyond the classroom — building their resilience, broadening livelihood options, promoting economic recovery and reducing the risk of further conflict or crisis. Emergencies turn to protracted crises. Failure to recognise education in humanitarian responses is holding back a whole generation”said Pauline Rose, from UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report on Education for All. “The humanitarian-development divide is problematic, but particularly for education. Education is important for both short-term results and as part of a long-term strategy for peace and security.”

Six months after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the Minister of Education concludes, with hope, “It is our dream to provide a free education for all our children”.

It is, of course, their right.

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