Gordon Brown: Children the 'biggest losers' as extreme flooding ravages Pakistan

A displaced child and mother line up to receive food rations after fleeing their flood-hit home. Credit: AP

Words by former UK prime minister and current UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown

The floods in Pakistan have displaced tens of millions of Pakistanis, covered one-third of the country and washed away one million homes. The scale of the loss of life is as yet incalculable.

Now - with a real fear of landslides and the threat of famine after 45% of the country's agricultural land has been destroyed and nearly one million farm animals dead - the humanitarian situation is deteriorating very rapidly.

With some provinces currently subjected to five times more rainfall than the 30-year average at this time, 66 districts have been declared 'calamity hit', including 31 in Balochistan, 23 in Sindh, nine in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), and three in Punjab.

The biggest losers now and for years ahead will be Pakistan’s children and young people. Millions of young people's life chances now hang by a thread. Even before the floods, 22.8 million school-age children did not go to school, and now roughly 16 million children - who lost months of schooling during Covid - now face many more months without a functioning school to attend.

The tragedy of Pakistan is that it has never fully recovered from its previous disasters - the earthquake of 2005 and the floods of 2010 - and the threat to a whole generation of young people will be at the heart of the agenda at the United Nation's Transforming Education Summit on September 19. The UN Secretary-General and 120 national leaders will convene in New York to discuss what to do about the 260 million school age children in the world who don't go to school.

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In recent years I have visited many of the areas of Pakistan that are now underwater. The immediate need, as in the previous Pakistan disasters, is for food, tents and tarpaulin.

But as the Transforming Education Summit will hear, Pakistan is not alone. The combination of climate change and conflicts are dramatically increasing the number of displaced children who are denied education. So we must now increase the emergency funding available to deal with the current and future humanitarian disasters hitting children hardest.

We now know that in Pakistan at least 18,000 schools have been damaged or destroyed. Another several thousand are unsafe, and 5,500 schools have been requisitioned to accommodate those displaced from their homes.

Homes are surrounded by floodwaters in Jaffarabad, a district of Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province. Credit: AP

These figures will be an understatement of the damage and the need for repairs - continued rainfall and submergence of schools prevent proper assessments. I have donated to the Disaster Emergency Committee Relief Fund and I urge others to try to do the same.

The world of rebuilding will start soon, but we need emergency help now if the children who have already lost months because of Covid are not to lose out again. $10.2 million (£8.85 million) has been requested to establish temporary schools in flood-affected districts.

We will have to secure emergency teaching aids. The dewatering, cleaning and disinfection of schools will have to be paid for if schooling is to resume in a safe and healthy learning environment. Psychosocial support will be needed for pupils.

Children line up for relief after heavy rain in Jaffarabad. Credit: AP

In some areas, the response has begun. Already 30 temporary schools have been set up in Pishin for 3,600 children, including 1,100 girls. And teaching materials will reach 35,000 children in Sindh and Punjab very soon.

This all costs money. In addition to the immediate funding of $2 million (£1.74 million) that the Education Cannot Wait Fund is now investing to respond to the most urgent needs, some of the funding set aside for the humanitarian development multi-year programme will be redirected to Pakistan.

Pakistan follows Afghanistan, Ukraine, Ethiopia and other crisis-hit countries as areas of the world that urgently need emergency assistance. One of the asks at the Transforming Education Summit will be that the education budgets of countries facing emergencies and subject to IMF programmes be exempted from cuts. For with education trying to catch-up after Covid, this is the time for all international organisations to expand financial support and prevent the potential talents of an entire generation of young people going to waste.

No one should forget that the UN's promise - with its 2030 deadline to "ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all" - can only be realised if we focus on the needs of the crisis-affected, refugee and displaced children and youth of the world.

The UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) has launched an urgent appeal to help the millions devastated by floods in Pakistan. To donate, visit the DEC website.