The lives of children in Nepal changed dramatically when the first of two major earthquakes struck the nation just six months ago. The April earthquake impacted the lives of millions of children, and their stability and normal life was shaken to the core. In any disaster children are the most vulnerable, and in this particular disaster children were among the greatest victims.
From a lack of safe temporary schools to increased child protection concerns, children continue to face challenges — particularly girls and those from marginalized groups.
The earthquakes devastated the education system in Nepal; 35,000 classrooms destroyed is a massive loss to the country, and thousands of children are left unable to study in a safe, permanent school. We need to get that back on track as soon as possible, as children continue to study in open spaces and in cracked buildings deemed unsafe by the government. “Back-to-school” campaigning requires not just community awareness, but also a safe school for children to continue their studies.
It is imperative that when we build safe and permanent schools, we do not just focus on the safe structure. A safe school also means that children and teachers are also trained and know what to do in the case of another disaster.
We overcame the monsoon season and provided children and families with the essential services they needed to survive: shelter, food, water, protection and access to education. Our next challenge will be the upcoming winter season and keeping children safe.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 81,000 households (400,000 people) will need durable shelter and household items ahead of the winter season. That is a massive population of children and families. Those living in high altitude areas will face freezing temperatures starting as early as November, peaking at -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) and lasting until March.
Families have told us that they do not feel adequately prepared for the winter and that they do not have the resources needed to withstand the cold temperatures. These are families who live in some of the remote parts of the country, often cut-off from humanitarian support.
It is imperative that children and their families receive emergency shelter and household support before the snow sets in. Temporary schools also need to be insulated and adapted to the winter.
Children are particularly vulnerable in extreme weather conditions and may stop going to school if their temporary classrooms cannot withstand the freezing temperatures.
Even before the earthquake, children were vulnerable to exploitation, violence and concerns such as child marriage, labor and trafficking. These were worsened when the earthquakes devastated the nation, but the incidents were not new to Nepal.
While children tend to be the most vulnerable in a disaster, it is girls that bear the brunt of the crisis. Being young and female, adolescent girls face double discrimination. In a disaster, the combination of poverty, loss of income and increased vulnerability may compel families to resort to grave decisions such as marrying their daughters off young.
We know as a child-based organization that the best way to protect girls is to keep them in school. Girls who are given the opportunity to study are less likely to fall prey to trafficking, child marriage or child labor. Education is a powerful way to break the discriminatory practices and cultural norms that continue to negatively impact the lives of girls in Nepal.
However, with thousands of classrooms destroyed, the need to provide immediate schooling for children — particularly girls — is critical. Safe spaces must be developed and made accessible to girls, where they can receive the information, support and services they need to remain safe, healthy and protected.
Building a better Nepal for children
Six months on and significant needs still remain. The current situation is still very much “temporary” and as we transition into the recovery phase, we must look to provide families with longer-term support.
Children are resilient. They have come out of a major disaster both stronger and wiser. They want to return to a normal life soon, but they also want things to improve.
The humanitarian community must not forget about Nepal.
Children and their families need our support to build back a better, stronger and more resilient Nepal: one where the rights of children are protected and promoted, where girls are equal to boys and where children can study in an environment that is safe and able to withstand the impact of all future disasters.
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