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UNICEF: Afghanistan's Educational System Needs Massive Overhaul - 2002-02-05


The United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, has said Afghanistan's interim government understands the importance of education to the country's future. But it says after years of Taleban rule, the educational system has to be rebuilt practically from the beginning.

UNICEF officials have said educators in Afghanistan know they have a lot of catching up to do and they are already getting started.

UNICEF spokeswoman Lyn Geldorf said Afghans are so eager to make up for lost time, that home-based schools are springing up everywhere in Afghanistan, even though the official school year does not begin until the end of March.

"Children are encrusted in the walls practically, squashed in as they are trying to learn. Home-based schools and state schools are just bursting at the seams. And their teachers are equally confined in a tiny area. If they fall, they fall on children, there is no space to move their feet. That is the enthusiasm that is there for education," she said.

UNICEF has said it is also pressing ahead with its vaccination campaign against measles. The high levels of malnutrition in the country, combined with the poor state of public health, make Afghan children especially vulnerable to measles. It is the biggest killer of children in the country.

Ms. Geldorf said UNICEF is hoping to give measles vaccine to some 10 million children between the ages of six months and 12 years.

"Measles is on the move all around Afghanistan. They have not had routine immunization properly for ten years at least. People know measles, are terrified of it. They come for immunization," she said.

Ms. Geldorf says children are lining up at mosques, health clinics and schools to receive the vaccine.

The UNICEF campaign marks the first measles immunization program in years in Afghanistan, and agency officials say it could save as many as 100,000 lives.

Meanwhile, Afghans in the country's largest camp for displaced people, located in the western town of Herat, are lining up to be registered for identity cards. Jean-Philippe Chauzy of the International Organization for Migration, says the card for the Maslakh camp will entitle the displaced people not only to food and other supplies in the camps, but will also enable them to get supplies when they are returning to their home villages in spring.

"What we are planning with others at the moment is to make sure these returns will be sustainable. In other words, that people will go back with food security, to make sure they will return with enough seeds to start the planting season. The window of opportunity is fairly narrow," he said.

Mr. Chauzy has said the International Organization for Migration wants to ensure that Afghans returning home will be able to provide for themselves.

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