Afghanistan: Education Crisis – Press Conference Education Cannot Wait

News sources quoted from: United Nations/ UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS


Media  – At the end of an all-female mission to Afghanistan, the Director of Education Cannot Wait, Yasmine Sherif, said a “minimum of one billion USD” must be invested into the country’s education sector and stressed that 20 years of development gains could be lost if immediate action is not taken.

Speaking from Islamabad airport to reporters in New York today (27 Oct), Sherif said Afghanistan is on the brink of collapse, with over 50 percent of the population no knowing where to get their next meal. She said, with the arrival of winter and the economic meltdown, prolonged drought, COVID-19, and extreme poverty, starvation is a very real threat.

The Education Cannot Wait (ECW) Director said civil servants, particularly teachers, have not been paid their salaries, and the highest price is being paid by the girls and boys of Afghanistan.

Sherif said, prior to mid-August, the country was already in crisis, and ECW, together with its partners, was able to invest 45 million USD in community based education and accelerated learning through joint work and programming. This allowed them to reach 58 percent of girls since 2019. She said these are children living in the hardest to reach areas, noting that 75 percent of Afghans live in rural areas.

She said, “What we realized from this mission – this is not enough. We need at least one billion USD – a minimum of one billion USD to be invested into the education sector to ensure that all girls and boys can attend quality education in a continuous [way] from primary through secondary school in Afghanistan. And we have to work collectively. On the ground, we see UN agencies, civil society organizations, coming together through real team spirit and joint programming.”

Sherif said, “In our discussions with the de-facto authorities, they said – they told us that they remain committed to open up secondary education for girls. This is what they told us. We have also seen from our colleagues on the ground in the UN and civil society that access has improved across the country significantly, which opens up the operational space. So, what is important is to depoliticize this and base our work on the humanitarian imperative.”

Sherif said, “When you do development in a crisis context, whether it is Afghanistan or any other crisis context – as the United Nations is so very good at doing and has been doing for so many decades – you do not need to put the funding, the financing into a government that you may not have recognized or is not exercising democratic governance. We have the direct execution modality. If money can be unfrozen and channeled into the UN agencies and the civil society organizations, then basic services can resume and be delivered right now.”

The ECW Director said agencies are already working together, but what is missing is funding. She said, “This is the humanitarian development nexus in reality. 4.2 million Afghan children, girls and boys, are out of school; 10 million girls have yet to return to school; teachers need salaries, we need rehabilitation; we need to reach the countryside; we need water and sanitation; we need to scale-up now. Their education cannot wait. Action cannot wait across all sectors. Financing and funding cannot wait. And our own humanity cannot wait.”

Sherif said the billion USD appeal is an estimate of the education needs in Afghanistan over at least the next three years. She said this was a very modest estimation given how broken the education system currently is in a country that has face 40 years of conflict and poverty.

She said, “The main priority right now is to delivery salaries to teachers and school administration. And as I mentioned, UNICEF has the capacity and the modalities in place to do so immediately should the financing be forthcoming. So, that is a top priority because without teachers we have no schools.”

Sherif noted that the de-facto authorities laid no claim on the funding and told the mission that if the UN agencies and NGOs are able to get funding and deliver teacher salaries, they do not object to that.

In response to questions, the ECW Director noted that the mission was “cautiously optimistic” after leaving Afghanistan. She said, “As United Nations we have to be optimistic because if we lose hope, imagine the girl sitting somewhere in a mountainous area or northern Afghanistan – what they will do if we lose hope. We cannot afford not to be optimistic, cautiously. We have a huge UN presence on the ground. We have staff in the UN, in the NGO community that worked for decades in Afghanistan. They know how to negotiate access. They know to maneuver the situation, and we rely on them to continue the work they are doing right now open gradually girls’ secondary schools.”

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