It is now one year since the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal. This earthquake and the aftershocks that followed claimed an estimated 8,964 lives and injured nearly 22,000 people. 35,000 classrooms were destroyed leaving over one million children without the much needed familiarity of school.
These numbers are incredible and there is no doubt that the road to recovery is a long one with great challenges ahead.
Plan International has been striving to meet those challenges. Our approach puts children at the heart of our interventions, helping them to recover, protecting and engaging them to reduce disaster risks, and preparing them to face future crises.
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake we were able to respond by providing emergency assistance in the form of shelter and food to thousands of families in the most affected regions. These efforts were supported in part by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) with a grant for shelter and relief, which benefitted some of the most vulnerable households such as Ganga’s, who regained hope after receiving a shelter kit from Plan International.
These immediate needs of food, water and shelter are often referred to as ‘life-saving’ – while protection and education, by contrast, are not. This could not be further from the truth. Child protection and education are closely linked interventions which are and must be considered to be life-saving in the immediate emergency response.
After the earthquake, many Plan International staff were working to ensure that those more protective services were not forgotten: Through our work, 44,968 children have benefitted from child friendly spaces and mobile outreach missions, receiving psychological care and counselling, while 310 temporary learning centres were built, allowing more than 21,000 children to resume their education immediately after the earthquake.
This month’s announcement by EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Christos Stylianides that funding for education in emergencies would quadruple in 2016, reaching 4% of all EU Humanitarian aid was obviously very welcome. The Commissioner has shown strong leadership on the matter and we hope to see this funding going to the poorest and most marginalised children living in crisis-affected areas and countries, especially girls.
What about girls?
Disasters like the Nepal earthquake pose particular dangers for girls, who are at greater risk then ever of falling behind in their education and of being subjected to gender-based abuse.
We have seen that child marriage rates in particular increased after the earthquake. This is because in emergencies where there is a heightened level of poverty and vulnerability, and where families have lost everything, tough household decisions have to be made. This may include marrying a young adolescent girl, even though that may not have been the plan before the earthquake.
That’s why we are creating ‘safe spaces’ for adolescent girls, where they will learn about sexual and reproductive health, life skills and receive vocational training. In our response, we also work to tackle systematic protection issues over the long-term in Nepal.
One year on
Now, a year on, the focus has shifted from immediate emergency aid to longer term recovery and rebuilding efforts. Ensuring that children are protected and supported must be at the heart of this process.
More needs to be done to ensure long-term provision and prioritisation of education. Over the next two years we want to ensure that 135,000 children can benefit from early childhood care and education services in a safe, resilient, inclusive, and conducive learning environment.
To achieve this Plan International is planning to build 20 new safe schools and repair 1,600 classrooms in addition to training thousands of teachers. By building these schools we are not only facilitating children’s return to school after this earthquake, we are also aiming to minimise the impact that any future disasters may have on education. This is an ambitious goal but one we need to achieve if we are to ensure a solid foundation and bright future for a generation of children in Nepal.
Children such as Manju who, having lost her home and school in the earthquake, now walks 45 minutes a day to a temporary learning facility in order to pursue her dream of getting an education and becoming a journalist.
Or Samita who won’t let her disability prevent her from getting an education.
We owe it to these girls and the thousands of other children who have had their lives affected by the earthquake to keep the international spotlight on Nepal and to rise to the challenges of recovery.