United Nations, May 8: At least 950,000 children in Nepal will not be able to return to school, unless urgent action is taken to provide temporary learning spaces and repair damaged school buildings following the earthquake on April 25, Unicef said.
Almost 24,000 classrooms were damaged or destroyed in the strong earthquake that hit the country 12 days ago, with many suffering further damage in subsequent aftershocks, said Unicef.
The scale of the education crisis is expected to grow over the coming days and weeks as additional information flows in from remote areas, said Unicef, but "schools are due to reopen on May 15".
"Almost one million children who were enrolled in school before the earthquake could now find they have no school building to return to," Xinhua news agency quoted Tomoo Hozumi, Unicef's representative in Nepal, as saying. Children affected by the earthquake need urgent life-saving assistance like clean water and shelter, but schools in emergencies, even in a temporary set-up, play a vital role too, according to Hozumi.
"They minimise disruption to children's education, protect them from exploitation and abuse, and provide them with messages to keep them safe and healthy. Going to school also allows children to regain a vital sense of routine that can help them come to terms with their experiences," Hozumi said.
In the severely-affected districts of Gorkha, Sindhupalchowk and Nuwakot, it is estimated that more than 90 percent of schools have been destroyed. In some areas, including Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, approximately nine in 10 surviving school buildings have been used as emergency shelters.
Moreover, Unicef is concerned that great strides made over the last 25 years in increasing primary school enrollment in Nepal from 64 percent in 1990 to more than 95 percent now could suffer a serious setback in the aftermath of the earthquake.
"There is a desperate need to set up alternative learning spaces, assess and repair buildings, and mount a public awareness campaign encouraging families to send their children back to school and pre-school," said Hozumi. "Prolonged interruption to education can be devastating for children's development and future prospects," Hozumi said.
On April 25, a strong earthquake shook Nepal, killing thousands of people so far while limiting access to food and leaving some 3.5 million in need of food assistance.