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One Million Children in Pakistan May Miss Out On School


The U.N. Children's Fund says as many as one million children in northwest Pakistan could miss out on school if buildings needed to house classrooms are not restored in time for the start of the new school year.

The U.N. Children's Fund estimates 60 percent of the two million people who fled their homes in the Swat Valley are children under the age of 18. School in Pakistan begins on September 1st.

But, UNICEF's director of Emergency Programs in Pakistan, Louis-Georges Arsenault, says most of these children may not be there when school is scheduled to open.

He says more than 4,000 schools have been converted into shelters and about 200,000 homeless people are living there.

"And, also in Swat, as you probably have heard many times, some 200 schools were destroyed by the Taliban and 75 percent were girls schools ... If we are not able to have the precondition for these shelters to be in shape for the school year and also have the minimum for when the people are returning to the communities, one million children will be at risk of losing and not starting the school year in time," Arsenault said.

The Pakistan army claims most of the Swat area is cleared of Taliban insurgents. The government has been urging people who fled the fighting that erupted between its troops and Taliban militants in late April to return home.

Arsenault says about 300,000 people are on the move back to Swat, Buner and Dir. He says the government is helping them to go back to their communities.

But Arsenault says UNICEF believes a great many people will remain behind.

"We are planning to maintain the current operation and also to scale up at least until the end of the year and probably the first quarter of 2010," Arsenault said. "This is what we are working with. But, it is critical that we not only focus on the humanitarian response, but also the early recovery and reconstruction and rehabilitation in the communities that people have left."

Arsenault says UNICEF has a lot of work to do in providing hundreds of thousands of people with good water and sanitation. He says preparations must be made to return children to school. Education materials must be purchased.

He says malnourished children need special care, as do children and women who are severely traumatized by recent events.

He says UNICEF will not be able to accomplish everything that needs to be done unless it receives more money. He says the agency is running a $20 million shortfall and this is seriously compromising its humanitarian operation.

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