UNICEF will construct 500 permanent schools and some 70 permanent rural health centres in northern Pakistan, the UN Children’s Fund said on Wednesday, where upwards of 10,000 schools and three-quarters of the area’s health facilities were damaged or destroyed in last year’s devastating earthquake. . .
‘The rebuilding of the region’s education infrastructure is vital to the area’s future,’ Tejre Thodensen, acting Country Representative for the UN children’s agency, told IRIN from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. ‘You need to go to school. You need to learn to read and write,’ he explained.
Thodensen’s comments come one day after UNICEF announced a US $150 million recovery plan for the region which was devastated by the 8 October quake that ripped through Pakistani-administered Kashmir and Northwest Pakistan, killing over 75,000 people and rendering more than 3.5 million homeless.
In addition to rebuilding, the UN children’s agency has extensive plans to build back better by boosting the quality and extent of education, healthcare, hygiene awareness, clean water and sanitation, and protection of children.
According to a statement announcing the plans on Tuesday, training will be provided to around 20,000 teachers and 4,000 community-based health workers; hygiene awareness will be introduced through schools and health worker networks; malnutrition rates will be targeted; and child protection networks will be developed.
UNICEF aims to have around 500,000 children enrolled in primary school in affected areas by 2008, including 100 percent of children who went to school before the quake and 30 percent of children who had previously never attended school, the statement read.
Thodensen explained that in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, which enjoys one of the highest literacy rates in the country, there had always been a strong interest in education.
‘The objective there is to rebuild, and where enrollment figures were lower, the aim is to improve,’ he said.
Between 85 and 90 percent of schools were destroyed, while education to almost 500,000 primary age children was disrupted, according to UNICEF. Before the earthquake in the Northwest, 47 percent of children aged five to nine were enrolled in primary education, while in Pakistani-administered Kashmir that figure was 71 percent.
‘The reason behind this is cultural. The region is amongst the most conservative parts of the country,’ the UNICEF official explained.
As part of its efforts to date, UNICEF has established four field offices in the 30,000 sq km quake-affected area, allowing staff to work more efficiently and safely. Access to the region remains problematic due to wet weather, landslides and inhospitable terrain. ‘Many devastated villages can only be reached by jeeps and foot,’ Thodensen said.
Meanwhile, a special construction unit is being established in UNICEF’s Pakistan headquarters to coordinate the massive task of rebuilding health facilities and schools with the Pakistani government’s Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency.
Regarding the issue of funding, UNICEF has about half the funds its needs, Thodensen said, thanking donors while at the same calling for their continued generosity. ‘We have funds for about half of what we want to do,’ he said.
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