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UNICEF: Conflicts, Disasters Contribute to Illiteracy of 59 Million Young People

FILE - Students learn with the help of a computer tablet provided by UNICEF at a school in Baigai, northern Cameroon, Oct. 31, 2017.

Nearly 60 million young people who live in countries affected by conflict or natural disaster are illiterate and more investment in education is needed to combat the crisis, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said Wednesday.

Nearly 30 percent of people between 15 and 19 years old who live in "emergency countries" are illiterate and the problem is more pronounced among girls and young women, according to UNICEF findings. Thirty-three percent of young females do not know even the basics, compared to 24 percent of boys, the agency said.

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said the statistics "are a stark reminder of the tragic impact that crises have on children's education, their futures, and the stability and growth of their economies and societies."

The child advocacy agency calls for more funding for education programs, particularly during humanitarian crises. It said only 3.6 percent of humanitarian funding is allocated for the education of young people living in emergency situations, making it one of the least funded humanitarian sectors.

In its annual Humanitarian Action for Children appeal, which began Tuesday, UNICEF called for $900 million for countries devastated by man-made and natural disasters. The funding would be used on programs such as accelerated learning, teacher training, school rehabilitation and school furniture and supplies.

UNICEF also proposed that governments provide young children with early learning opportunities and illiterate young people with specially-designed alternative education programs.

"Education can make or break a child's future," Fore said.

The findings are based on U.N. Educational, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) literacy data on 27 emergency countries.

The countries with the highest illiteracy rates among people between the ages of 15 and 24 are Niger (76 percent), Chad (69 percent), South Sudan (68 percent), and the Central African Republic (64 percent).

UNICEF released the data one day before the two-day Global Partnership for Education Replenishment Conference in Dakar, Senegal, which is designed to raise funds to ensure that all children and youth are learning.