Australia must join urgent push to fund education in disasters

One million schools were destroyed in the Nepal quake. Yet one per cent of funding globally is spent on education in disasters.

This can change at a special meeting happening in Oslo today at the Education for Development summit in Oslo. World leaders are gathering to talk disasters, and priorities, and we want education to be up there. That’s why we’re calling on the Australian Federal Government to join the urgent global push to better fund the education of children in the wake of disasters and crises like the earthquakes in Nepal and the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.

The summit will be attended by former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, as well as Ministers for Education and Ministers for Development from governments around the world.

Urgent need for school

Right now, around 37 million children are out of school because of crises and disasters. And yet, just one per cent of humanitarian funds went towards supporting education in emergencies in the last year.

“In times of disaster, education is all too often the first casualty. Schools are closed, damaged or destroyed and frequently the funds are not there to reopen them quickly – or sometimes at all. This is despite the urgent need for children to resume their education,” says Acting CEO of Plan International Australia, Susanne Legena.

“The reason it is so important to reopen or rebuild schools in the wake of disasters or crises is that the longer children are out of school, the less likely they are return – indeed, they may never return and that has an obvious impact on the rest of their lives, as well as setting back development for communities and nations as a whole.”

One per cent is not enough

Children who are out of school are also more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation – all the more so in times of disaster. Education provides children with a safe space and physical protection. Our work on the ground shows that schools are a safe sanctuary in which children can rebuild their lives after the trauma of a disaster.

Despite the crucial importance of education in disasters, just one per cent of humanitarian funds have gone to education in the past year. This is not enough, and that’s why we want the Government to support our call for a Global Humanitarian Fund for Education and to pledge a significant amount to that fund.

“These funds need to be over and above the current Australian aid budget – which has seen such savage cuts recently. It’s not acceptable to take the money from others in need in order to prioritise education in emergencies. Education in emergencies is too important for that,” Legena says.

“This is particularly important for girls. Their education is disproportionately affected by disasters and crises, and they are at greater risk of abuse, exploitation and trafficking while they are out of school,” she says. “In fact, when disasters close or destroy schools, many girls never return to complete their education.”

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Nepal is the perfect example

“A perfect example of the impact disasters have on the education of children can be found in Nepal. The earthquakes there destroyed 36,000 classrooms and damaged 17,000 more, disrupting the education of more than a million children. And yet, not even half of the funding the UN says is needed to address this has been committed.”

“Sadly, there are other examples. In West Africa, schools were closed as the Ebola crisis engulfed the region, impacting 8.5 million children. In South Sudan, the continuing conflict has caused massive disruption to an education system that was already under enormous strain. We see similar problems in places like Syria and Nigeria.”

“Few people would argue that education – particularly of girls – is the key to putting a poor country on the path out of poverty. But yet governments, including Australia’s, are failing to put their money where their mouth is when a poor nation is hit by disaster and the crucial education of children is disrupted or terminated. This must change now.”

When Plan responds to a disaster, the protection of children is at the heart of everything we do. We want to see a world where nothing gets in the way of a school, not even a disaster.

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