LONDON • A quarter of the world's school-age children - 462 million - live in countries affected by crises such as wars and disasters, Unicef said yesterday as it unveiled details of a new fund to help get children back in class during emergencies.
Although nearly 75 million children are considered in desperate need of education or help to stay in school, the UN children's agency said that on average, only 2 per cent of global humanitarian appeals are dedicated to education.
The Education Cannot Wait fund, to be launched at the first World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul this month, aims to raise nearly US$4 billion (S$5.4 billion) to reach 13.6 million children within five years and 75 million by 2030.
"Education changes lives in emergencies," said Unicef's education chief Josephine Bourne in a statement. "Going to school keeps children safe from abuses like trafficking and recruitment into armed groups and is a vital investment in children's futures and in the future of their communities."
School also helps guard against child labour and child marriage, yet the role of education in protecting children is often overlooked during crises, Unicef said.
"It is time education was prioritised by the international community as an essential part of basic humanitarian response, alongside water, food and shelter," Ms Bourne added.
In Syria, more than 6,000 schools are out of use, having been attacked, occupied by the military, or turned into shelters. In the Central African Republic, a quarter of schools are not functioning.
In periods of crisis, parents cite education as one of their top priorities, yet last year only a fraction of children identified as needing education in humanitarian response plans were reached, Unicef said.
The new fund would disburse aid at the first sign of upheaval and provide longer-term aid in protracted crises, Unicef said in a report.
When crises hit, children are often forced to move repeatedly, interrupting their schooling.
In the poorest communities, a child who is out of school for more than a year is unlikely to return. Girls are 2.5 times more likely to drop out of school than boys.
Unicef said disruption to schooling had huge implications for long-term development. "Education can be a driver of stability, reconciliation and peace- building, and a buffer against future social and economic shocks," the report said. "If education is not used as a lever to break the cycle, then crises will continue to be repeated."
Unicef could not say if the number of children in crisis-affected countries had increased as there were no comparable estimates for previous years.
The fund will seek support from new donor countries, the commercial sector, foundations, philanthropists, diasporas and faith-based groups, as well as traditional sources of donations.
It will be launched by Unicef with partners including the UN education envoy, the UN refugee agency and governments.