EDITORIAL: Future at stake

Dismal progress in reconstruction of quake-damaged schools is a telling sign of misplaced priorities of the government

It has been more than three years since the country witnessed one of the biggest natural disasters – the earthquake of April 25, 2015 – which killed nearly 9,000 people. Since it was a Saturday, millions of children were in homes – or else the casualties could have easily gone up. Then another major quake followed on May 12. The two tremors destroyed or damaged 7,923 schools and nearly 30,000 classrooms. Reconstruction progress, however, has been dismal. More than half of the school buildings are yet to be rebuilt, which has forced tens of thousands of schoolchildren to attend classes in flimsy makeshift tents. No one knows how these schoolchildren are going to attend classes not only this monsoon but two more monsoons, as the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) says it would take at least two more years to build all the schools damaged or destroyed by the quakes.

In the immediate aftermath of the quakes, UNICEF had warned that around one million children would not be able to return to school “unless urgent action is taken to provide temporary learning spaces and repair damaged school buildings”. The Post Disaster Needs Assessment published in June 2015 by the National Planning Commission said that the quakes would impact enrolment and attendance, leading to an increase in the number of children out of school. In districts like Gorkha, the epicentre of the April 25 earthquake, Sindhupalchowk and Nuwakot, which were severely affected, more than 90 per cent of schools were destroyed. The UN body had expressed concern that the great strides Nepal made over the last 25 years in increasing primary school enrolment could suffer a serious setback if authorities failed to make reconstruction of schools at the centre of the focus. This concern stands true still today, more than three years after the quakes.

Of the 7,923 schools buildings damaged or destroyed by the quakes, only 3,786 have been rebuilt so far. The slow school reconstruction process has deprived schoolchildren of their right to education. And those who are attending classes in makeshift tents are wary of the impending rains. Temporary Learning Centres (TLCs) built after the quakes are likely to face multiple problems, including water seepage and leaking roofs. This could increase dropout rates. High school dropout rate has been a major concern in Nepal. The Department of Education said in June that 88,000 children aged between five to nine (2.8 per cent) could not be enrolled. The condition of TLCs, which were built to last two to three years, has deteriorated. This can put children’s lives also at risk during the rainy season. That there is no plan to provide an additional budget to improve the condition of TLCs is a telling sign of government’s misplaced priorities. Children’s education shapes a nation’s future. Putting children in jeopardy will mean putting the country’s future at stake. Failure to invest today in children’s education will make it impossible for Nepal to meet the target of ensuring quality primary and secondary education by 2030. The government needs to set its priorities right. Slow school rebuilding process means children are being denied not only a right but also opportunities.

Sickle cell anaemia 

The World Sickle Cell Day is marked on June 19 every year to raise public awareness about sickle cell anaemia. But the awareness campaign launched in Nepal has hardly produced any desired results, say experts. The Nepal Health Research Council (NHRC) under the Ministry of Health and doctors have stressed the need to raise awareness to prevent sickle cell anaemia, which has mostly affected people in Banke, Bardiya and Dang districts.

Sickle cell anaemia is a genetic disease worldwide caused by mutation of red blood cells. Haemoglobin forms into stiff rods within the red blood cells that take the shape of a sickle. Formation of the sickle cell in the body obstructs the process of forming new cells which ultimately results in anaemia. It decreases the red cells in the body due to which patient shows symptoms of anaemia. The effects of sickle cells anaemia can also be seen in lungs, kidneys, pancreas and the brain. Children whose parents have carried the disease are likely to suffer from the disease. NHRC has already collected blood samples of more than 5,288 people in Bardiya alone. An extensive research is a must.