Thousands of schools have been used as evacuation centres and about 1.8 million children cannot go to class as flooding continues to ravage large swathes of Bangladesh, Nepal and India’s north-east. The regional death toll now stands at over 1,200, with more than 40 million people affected.
Save the Children is warning that hundreds of thousands of children could fall permanently out of the school system if education isn’t prioritised in relief efforts.
“We haven’t seen flooding on this scale in years and it’s putting the long-term education of an enormous number of children at great risk. From our experience, the importance of education is often under-valued in humanitarian crises and we simply cannot let this happen again. We cannot go backwards,” said Rafay Hussain, Save the Children’s General Manager in India’s Bihar state.
“We know that the longer children are out of school following a disaster like this, the less likely it is that they’ll ever return. That’s why it’s so important that education is properly funded in this response – to get children back to the classroom as soon as it’s safe to do so and to safeguard their futures.”
There are currently more than one million children missing school in India because of the floods. Around 500,000 children in Nepal and 300,000 children in Bangladesh are also missing out.
The floods have had a huge impact on education institutions right across the region, with more than 12,000 schools damaged or destroyed in India; 2,000 in Nepal; and 4,000 in Bangladesh. In some areas, school has been suspended for several weeks. Others schools remain open; however there is a lack of teaching staff and learning materials and attendance is low because students are trying to survive the floods with their families.
In Bangladesh, the government has suspended university examinations and is planning to reschedule primary school examinations.
Save the Children’s Country Director in Bangladesh, Mark Pierce, said education should be considered a basic necessity in this kind of emergency response.
“While life-saving aid like shelter, food and clean drinking water is being distributed to affected communities, we must think about education in the same light and how we can get children back to the classroom as quickly and safely as possible,” Mr Pierce said.
“School is the absolute best place for children to be, acting as a protection mechanism against things like child labour, early marriage and child trafficking, which can occur in times of emergencies like floods, when poor communities are pushed to the brink. School also supports children’s emotional recovery, providing a sense of normality and routine and a place to be with their peers.”
Save the Children is helping the education system recover in all three flood affected countries. The aid agency has set up temporary learning spaces so classes can resume immediately, distributed back-to-school kits with basic learning materials and is providing psychosocial support to students affected by the floods.
Aside from education, Save the Children is also distributing tarpaulins for temporary shelter, running special playgroups for children to help them recover, and distributing relief items including hygiene kits, kitchen kits and cash for basic necessities like food and clean drinking water.