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On the eve of Eid-al-Fitr, quake-affected children have little to celebrate

© UNICEF video
On the eve of the Muslim festival Eid-al-Fitr, children living in Pakistan's earthquake-affected region have little to smile about. As many as 4 million people have been affected by the quake – at least half of them children.

By Martin Dawes

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, 3 November 2005 – The festival of Eid-al-Fitr, taking place tomorrow, should be the happiest time for Muslim children. It’s traditionally a time for presents and laughter as a reward after a month of Ramadan fasting.

But this Eid is different because children in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the North-West Frontier Province have had so much taken away. Most will have lost someone close, many will have been injured and all now face a struggle for survival. Winter is coming to the treacherous mountains where they live. The weather forecasts say rain and plunging temperatures are likely next week.

As many as 4 million people have been affected by the 8 October earthquake, at least half of them children. Already camps for the 1.7 million made homeless by the disaster are springing up in the picturesque valleys. UNICEF is working to make sure that people in tented encampments and villages have access to clean water and proper sanitation. In these conditions the threat of disease is never far away and UNICEF is watching for it.

At the same time the organization is mounting a rapid vaccination campaign against measles, which has already protected nearly 300,000 children. It is not easy. In some of the worst-hit areas half of the government health workers were killed by the quake.

© UNICEF video
Camps for the 1.7 million people made homeless by the disaster are springing up in the affected region of Pakistan. UNICEF is working to ensure access to clean water and proper sanitation.

Rebuilding the educational system

If the children trying to celebrate this Eid are to have a future, UNICEF knows that the sooner they get back to learning the better. However there are big challenges.

• Nearly one million children (955,000) of school age have been affected by the disaster.
• Over 450,000 children between 5 and 9 years of age require primary education.
• An estimated 4,000 temporary primary schools are needed.
• More than 17,000 pupils were killed when their schools collapsed around them.

Reflecting on the upcoming Muslim festival, UNICEF Education Officer in Pakistan Maurice Robson reiterated the importance of rebuilding the affected region’s educational system: “One thing we can give children this Eid is hope for the future. We are working to restore schools, train teachers and give children exercise books, pencils and text books.”

Some children are already learning again in temporary tent schools. Not only is it important to keep breaks in education to a minimum, it is crucial that affected children are given a place where they can feel safe, receive immunizations and get access to clean water, and where some of the damage caused to vulnerable minds can be addressed.

But the need for increased aid from the international community remains acute. Without more funds, it will be impossible to overcome the logistical challenges of delivering aid to remote quake-affected areas. A second wave of deaths may be the tragic result. The total UN appeal is for $550 million, of which only a little more than $130 million has been received to date.

Sabine Dolan contributed to this report from New York.




3 November 2005:
UNICEF’s Martin Dawes reports on the situation in Pakistan’s quake-affected areas on the eve of Eid-al-Fitr.

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