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News ->Back To School: Pakistan Earthquake One Year On

(2 October 2006)

Takia Doga School Outdoor LessonIt is easy for many to forget the terrible earthquake which killed about 40,000 people in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan this time last year, but for thousands of children like Zainab Bibi, who survived the tragedy, recovering from the trauma has not been as easy. Learning for Life is a UK-based education charity, which was established 13 years ago as a response to the need for education, especially of girls, in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. In Pakistan one year on after the earthquake, LfL works with local partners in the region to resume the much-needed education for children.

Zainab was studying in Class 2 (Year 2) at the community based school set up in her village, Sumbol in District Mansehra of NWFP, by the charity in partnership with the Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP) before the disaster. The earthquake affected 19 of LfL's community-based schools leaving 11 completely destroyed and 8 severely damaged. The continuation of aftershocks to the region exacerbated the problem and all 19 schools were in need of rebuilding. Learning for Life suffered a tragic loss of life as 51 pupils lost their lives in the disaster, while another 43 were seriously injured.

Since October last year, LfL has embarked on a reconstruction project to not only rebuild all the 19 schools that were destroyed in the area but also to set up the 6 new schools that were due to start that year. That initial target has been exceeded and there are now 28 new schools being established in the affected area. These 28 community based schools are earthquake-resistant structures, typically comprising 3 or 4 classrooms as well as an adjoining health unit.

LfL recognised the urgent need for health and education to work together and a new training programme in basic health, hygiene and nutrition for health workers is in place. These health units will be hubs for raising health awareness amongst the rural communities. The establishment of such health units in areas where people have little access to health facilities is a significant contribution to community development.


April 2006, Reconstruction begins in the Cambrian Zameeri regionTo date, about 5 of these 28 schools and their health centres are complete, with the rest under construction. This has been a tremendous feat given the poor accessibility not least caused by the destruction of the earthquake but also the shortage of labour and materials exacerbated by the massive reconstruction going on throughout the region. A severe monsoon has hindered delivery of materials, with many roads being washed away. The government has also barred reconstruction in some high-risk areas that are considered susceptible to seismic shocks and hence unsafe for habitation. Elsewhere, work continues, with levelling the land and clearing the rubble being the two main problems. The remaining schools are in various stages of construction with most expected to be ready in November this year.


There was one "positive" outcome of the earthquake: the increased need and demand for schools and education. Before the disaster, these communities were already extremely poor and had limited access to education due to the terrain. Prevalent socio-cultural attitudes also limited the access to education, especially for girls. The earthquake highlighted how the lack of education greatly affected these communities in terms of aid distribution and differential access to relief. This has indirectly resulted in predominantly illiterate communities being extremely mobilised to demand services such as schools and health facilities.

Local people's enthusiasm in reconstruction has been reflected not only in their contribution of labour but also of precious agricultural land to make sure that the schools are completed. Communities have been anxious to get their schools up and running in order to regain a sense of normalcy. It is a testimony to the popularity of these schools that they are being completed so quickly. Locals, especially the women, have seen the way schools can break the cycle of landless labour and crippling poverty to which many are condemned. Because of the restraints on the traditional communities, a positive by product of the earthquake has been the increasingly public role that women have been playing in post-disaster reconstruction.

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