Conflicts can inflict catastrophe for longer than you might think. As battles destroy homes and populations flee violence, international governments and NGOs try to alleviate the worst effects by delivering much-needed shelter, medical aid and food supplies. Indeed, we are used to seeing tented cities spring up to accommodate displaced populations and this remains a vital response to such a crisis.
Less obvious, perhaps, is the need to continue providing support to people for whom normal service is unlikely to be resumed for a very long time. And one of the keys to rebuilding sustainable communities is education.
According to the United Nations, around 250 million children live in countries affected by conflict, 9.9 million children are currently refugees and an estimated 19 million children have been displaced within their own country due to conflict. In such settings, schools are often destroyed and the educational provision that remains is often disrupted and/or of poor quality, with schools lacking qualified teachers. And for many children whose lives are turned upside down by an emergency, education simply stops. According to UNICEF, 37 million children living in emergency situations do not have access to any form of education. Furthermore, girls living in conflict-affected countries are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys.
Left unaddressed, this is a recipe for continuing, long-term disaster. Thankfully, however, the issue is not going ignored. Earlier this month (April 2016), the European Commission announced a €52 million humanitarian aid package aimed specifically at educational projects for children in emergency situations in 2016.
The package reflects the Commission's earlier commitment to increase the amount of it allocates to education from its humanitarian aid budget from 1% in 2015 to 4% in 2016. The funding will support more than 2.3 million children in 42 countries around the world and will be targeted at regions where children are at higher risk of receiving no education or having it disrupted. These include the Middle East (especially Syria and Iraq), East, Central and West Africa, Asia, Ukraine, Central America and Colombia.
EU-funded educational activities do not provide a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, they are designed to meet the specific needs of their beneficiaries, taking into account the age, gender and other specific circumstances of the children. Activities can range from improving access to education to providing school materials and uniforms, from transporting students to educational centres, to building schools and rebuilding those that have been damaged. The Commission also funds a range of related projects, such as enabling access to accelerated learning programmes, life-skills and vocational training, psychosocial assistance and recreational activities.
Such initiatives require suitably qualified staff and the EU is also supporting the recruitment of new teachers and the provision of training to those already in place. Furthermore, parents, caregivers and community leaders need to be aware that these services are available and that their children’s education is a priority. The EU is working successfully to raise awareness within those groups.
Since 2012, when the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize, it has increased funding from €930 000 to its present level, meaning that over a period of five years, the total allocation for Education in Emergencies has reached over €75 million. By the end of 2016, more than 3.8 million children – 10% of those living in emergency situations - will have been helped in 46 countries around the world. When the work of the UN, national governments and NGOs is also taken into consideration, there appear to be grounds for real hope. However, there is still a long way to go and education in emergencies is strongly underfunded. At present, less than 2 % of global humanitarian funding is allocated to education and the funding gap for this area amounts to €4.3 billion.
However, as the EU funding package shows, humanitarian aid is not just about preventing people from dying in the short-term, it is also about enabling people to live in the long-term. It is an investment in all our futures.