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Podcast #43: One year on, flood disaster's impact lingers in Pakistan

'Beyond School Books' - a podcast series on education in emergencies

© UNICEF/PAKA2010-00441/Ramoneda
A girl writes on chalkboard at a UNICEF-supported school in a relief camp for people affected by the 2010 monsoon floods in Sukkur, Pakistan.

Children and families continue to cope – and rebuild their lives – a year after devastating monsoon floods struck Pakistan. This is one in a series of stories on their situation, one year on.

By Rudina Vojvoda

NEW YORK, USA, 3 August 2011 – The unprecedented monsoon floods that hit Pakistan a year ago claimed hundreds of lives, washed away 2 million hectares of cropland and damaged or destroyed 1.7 million homes. Nearly 10,000 were schools also damaged or destroyed, taking a heavy toll on the education system.

 AUDIO: Listen now

To mark the anniversary of the floods, UNICEF Radio podcast moderator Amy Costello talked to Nafisa Shah, Co-chair of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) in Pakistan and Chairperson of the National Commission for Human Development; and Shahnaz Wazir Ali, Co-chair of the Pakistan Education Task Force (PETF), a nationwide government initiative aiming to widen access to quality education in Pakistan.

Both Ms. Shah and Ms. Wazir Ali are Members of the National Assembly, and both are closely involved with the education sector. In the podcast discussion, they addressed the current situation in Pakistan and the challenges of achieving quality education for all in the aftermath of the flood disaster.

Floods expose hidden issues

Before the 2010 floods, almost 7 million children were out of school, and Pakistan was already behind schedule on meeting the Millennium Development Goal on universal primary education. The floods immediately affected an estimated 1.8 million schoolchildren – including those who were displaced and those enrolled in schools that were damaged, destroyed or taken over for use as emergency shelters.

In a way, noted Ms. Shah, the crisis brought attention to some previously hidden issues.

“When we met the children in flood-affected areas, a number of them had never gone to school,” she said. “The floods exposed what was lacking in terms of education.”

What the floods uncovered was the lack of access to state services for children living in poor communities, said Ms. Shah. Among the barriers keeping these children out of school, she added, were a lack of school infrastructure, an insufficient number of trained teachers and local traditions that engage children in farm labour rather than education.

Financing education

According to Ms. Wazir Ali, the economic downturn caused by last year’s floods – combined with a traditionally underfunded education budget – seem to have significantly stalled Pakistan’s progress towards achieving the MDGs.

“At the level at which Pakistan is spending,” she said, “there is no way that it can meet the goals.” She stressed that the answer to improving education in Pakistan rests with two main factors: ensuring a higher level of expenditures and improving the system’s management.

Girls constitute almost 60 per cent of Pakistan’s out-of-school children. Asked about the state of girls’ education in the country, Ms. Shah replied that the demand for it has increased since the floods.

“I think that parents do not want to compromise on the quality now,” she said. “When good quality education is not available, parents are willing to sell their assets [to pay] for quality education, and this includes the girls’ education.” Ms. Nafisa Shah added that she was hopeful about the chances of making progress on education in Pakistan in the coming years.




20 July 2011: UNICEF Radio moderator Amy Costello speaks with Nafisa Shah and Shahnaz Wazir Ali about the challenge of achieving quality education for all in the aftermath of massive floods that struck Pakistan a year ago.
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