Ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa threatens the new school year

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© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0999/Kate Holt
Somali children waiting to register for food and other aid in the Dagahaley refugee camp in North Eastern Province, near the Kenya-Somalia border. The camp is among three that comprise the Dadaab camps, located on the outskirts of the town of Dadaab in Garissa District. In Kenya, 1.7 million children have been affected by the drought, including 220,000 Somali refugee children in the north-eastern town of Dadaab.

By Rudina Vojvoda

NEW YORK, USA, 12 September 2011 – As the emergency escalates throughout the Horn of Africa, the numbers of those in crisis continue to grow. Currently, 13.3 million people in the region are in need of humanitarian assistance. Somalia is the worst-affected country, with more than 750,000 people at risk of death.

This dire situation poses some crucial challenges to the education services. Due to displacement and lack of security, more than 1.8 million children are unable to attend school in Somalia. Meanwhile, in drought-affected areas in Kenya, there are significant shortages of school facilities, teachers and learning materials due to a large number of refugees that are seeking education.

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To discuss the beginning of the school year under these extreme circumstances and the importance of education in emergency situations, UNICEF’s new podcast moderator Femi Oke talked to Mr. Jumma Khan, Education Cluster Coordinator for Somalia and Mr. Garisa Omara, a Senior Assistant Director of Education in the Kenyan Ministry of Education.

Education situation dire

Years of conflict, back-to-back droughts accompanied by food crisis, poverty and lack of funding have put the education of children in south and central Somalia in a desperate situation. Approximately 25 per cent of children were attending primary education before the crises and this number is expected to drop at the beginning of this school year.

“We are very worried about the education situation in that area [south and central Somalia] because there is no Ministry of Education there,” stressed Mr. Khan. Traditionally the education system in these areas is supported by Community Education Committees formed by local leaders, parents and teachers.

“Now the communities are unable to pay the fee,” Mr. Khan further explained. “Teachers have been displaced because they don’t have any livelihood there.”

Immediate assistance needed

Running from famine and violence, many children from Somalia are going to schools in Kenya.

“We need teaching and learning materials,” said Mr. Omara. “Putting up infrastructure such as classrooms and supporting mobile schools are essential because most of the people are on the move”.

Supporting this idea, a recent publication by the Education Cluster in Kenya calls for immediate support in order to establish temporary learning centers, and provide classroom space to accommodate new students in host communities. Furthermore, assistance is needed to ensure adequate water and sanitation facilities and provide essential teaching and learning materials for children and teachers.

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Jumma–thank you for your excellent update on the devastating situation facing learners-children, youth and adults-in Somalia and the work that the Somalia Education Cluster members are doing to address the crisis.

Indeed, it is difficult to prioritize one sector over another: work in all sectors is equally important to address comprehensively the needs of the affected communities. Education should be a key component of the humanitarian response to the Horn of Africa crisis: education is life-saving and life-sustaining. I am glad to hear that the Education Cluster is approaching the education response to the crisis holistically, covering all Domains of the INEE Minimum Standards–the global framework for quality, safe and relevant education in emergencies through to recovery.


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