New York (US) – The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says the education of some 700,000 children in Mali has been disrupted due to the violence in the country, stressing that there is an urgent need to rebuild schools, train teachers and provide learning supplies.
Northern Mali has been occupied by radical Islamists after a coup in March, 2012. The conflict uprooted hundreds of thousands of people and prompted the Malian government to request assistance from France to stop the military advance of extremist groups.
A UNICEF statement made available to PANA in New York on Saturday, stated that since the violence began over a year ago, at least 115 schools in the north had been closed, destroyed, looted and sometimes contaminated with unexploded ordnance.
Of the 700,000 children affected, 200,000 still had no access to school, UNICEF said.
It said many teachers were among those displaced and had not returned to the northern part of the country. Instead, they are working in the already overcrowded schools in the south, which could not cope with the amount of displaced students from the north.
'When a teacher is afraid to teach and when a student is afraid to go to school, the whole education is at risk,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Mali, Françoise Ackermans.
He also said that in the north, only one in three schools was now functioning. In some towns, all schools remain closed, as is the case in Kidal, while in others a few have opened. Five per cent of schools have now reopened in Timbuktu.
UNICEF noted that the violence had also had a significant psychological impact on children, who had reported hearing gunshots at school and at home.
The agency said it was working with the Malian educational authorities to accelerate the return of children to school.
Since December, UNICEF has trained 1,190 Malian teachers to provide psychological support and mine-risk education to children. In addition, more than 16,000 children have received educational materials across the country.
Other UN agencies have continued to work in Mali to assist the estimated 1.2 million people that have been affected by armed operations.
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) on Friday opened a new land route to transport food supplies from Niamey, Niger, to some 24,000 people in northern Mali.
The WFP said that trucks had already delivered 200 metric tons of food to the Menaka town, and more convoys were on the way.
“We are actively expanding our logistics capacity to overcome access challenges in northern Mali,” WFP Country Director Zlatan Milisic said.
“Our next priority is to send more food to Kidal, hopefully in the next few days. And if we cannot reach certain areas by road or river, we will be ready to launch an air operation,' he added.
In another development, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the situation in the country remained highly volatile, with at least 16,000 newly displaced people since the beginning of the year.
“From the north, we have heard horrifying reports of human rights violations, recruitment of children and rising sexual violence,” OCHA spokesperson, Jens Laerke, said in a statement.
He said the protection of civilians was an urgent humanitarian priority not least in terms of the risk of explosive remnants of war and mines.
Laerke said mine-risk education programmes were ongoing and humanitarian partners were working on a systematic collection and analysis of data on the presence of mines and explosive remnants of war.
He noted that only US$15.6 million, or 4 per cent of the US$373 humanitarian appeal for Mali, had been received so far.