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After string of school collapses in 2008, UNICEF says schools must be made safe for children


NEW YORK – UNICEF called today for more concerted action to make schools safe for children.

“Whether caused by poor construction or natural catastrophes, school collapses invariably have disastrous effects on children,” said Cream Wright, UNICEF Global Chief of Education. “Schools must be safe places where children can learn and thrive.”

The year 2008 was marked by a number of school collapses – many of them fatal – in various parts of the world.

Following the 3 May cyclone in Myanmar, more than 4,000 schools still need to be repaired or rebuilt to provide permanency and security to affected children.

On 12 May, a devastating earthquake struck Wenchuan County in China’s Sichuan Province. It is estimated that the resulting number of child deaths is in the thousands. The quake damaged more than 12,000 schools, or 40 per cent of all the schools in Sichuan, and another 6,500 schools in neighbouring Gansu Province.

In Pakistan, the earthquake that hit the northeastern areas of Balochistan province on 29 October damaged some 300 schools in the worst affected districts of Ziarat, Pishin and Harnai – 85 per cent of schools in these areas - as well as 124 schools in the neighbouring Quetta district. More than 31,000 students were affected.

On 7 November, more than 90 children and teachers perished in Haiti after their school collapsed because of poor infrastructure. Hurricanes and tropical storms that pounded the country in August and September damaged nearly 1,000 schools.

Schools are unlikely to topple when natural disasters strike if they have a strong structural design, their construction is closely monitored and they undergo regular maintenance.

Safe construction is an essential component of child-friendly schools and learning spaces, a model which UNICEF strongly advocates for all children. Under this model, school environments must be safe, healthy and protective, endowed with trained teachers, adequate resources and appropriate physical, emotional and social conditions for learning.

Such environments benefit schoolchildren as well as the communities in which they live. “Safe schools don’t just save children’s lives,” Wright said. “They can also serve as temporary shelters for communities in times of disasters.”

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.


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