Global Co-ordination > Working Group on Education for All >
First meeting / Document 16

The Initiative on Education
in Situations of Emergency and Crisis
Kacem Bensalah

1- The right to Education and Emergency Situation

It gives me great pleasure to address you this morning to share with you UNESCO's position in the field of Education in Situations of Emergency and Crisis. This is an occasion we dreamed of not so long ago to be able to gather all partners having the same objectives and preoccupations for Education in Situations of Emergency and Crisis, the United Nations Agencies, Donors Agencies and Non Governmental Organizations. Thank you for been numerous in answering our common initiative. We are all together facing the same challenge and we are determined to raise it through our reinforced cooperation.

Crisis situations caused by political instability, armed conflicts, natural disasters constitute today a structural element of the worldwide reality. More than a third of the UNESCO Member States is in this situation notably in Africa, in Asia and in Central America. The immediate result is the dramatic cortege of millions of refugees and displaced population having lost everything and who are in majority, women and children.

We are witnessing since 1945 an unprecedented explosion of more than 150 conflicts around our five continents making millions of deaths and injured. During the first worldwide war 5% of victims were civilians. This number increased today to 80%, 90%, half of them are children. They are the first victims. But they are also used in armed conflicts as fighters, which means as child-soldiers. They are more than 300 000 aged less than 18 years old enrolled in armed groups. We find them in Afghanistan, Somalia, Uganda, Congo, Sierra Leone, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, etc…

The elementary rights to security, primary cares and education are crucial issues. The United Nations Specialised Agencies in particular as well as NGOs have each a major role to play in safeguarding these rights.

If problems of protection and basic cares are guaranteed by Organizations like the UNHCR and UNICEF notably, UNESCO brings as for her an important contribution in the application of the right to education in time of war. Education in Situations of Emergency and Crisis constitutes with health, the type of social services that guarantees the transition between humanitarian actions and assistance towards reconstruction and sustainable development. Any interruption of this process is a direct threat to the right to Education which are the pillars of the actions stipulated by the United Nations and specially within UNESCO mandate.

2- Commitments of the International Community

More than it was stated in Jomtien in 1990, the Dakar Declaration (April 2000) makes reference four times to the Education in Situation of Emergency and Crisis (points 8, 11, 13 and 14). It is stated in particular that "to achieve goals, we the governments, organizations, institutions, groups and associations represented at the World Education Forum pledge ourselves to meet the needs of education systems affected by conflict, natural calamities and instability and conduct educational programmes in ways to promote mutual understanding, peace and tolerance, and help to prevent violence and conflicts".

It is added that "countries with less developed strategies - including countries affected by conflict, countries in transition, and post-crisis countries - must be given the support they need to achieve more rapid progress towards education for all".

It is finally asked to prepare to this purpose a national plan EFA for 2002 at the latest including all components of Education in Situations of Emergency and Crisis for the countries concerned.

The International Conference of Winnipeg in September 2000 on children affected by war has for its part been concerned in the same way. It insisted strongly that "access to education is rapidly restored, supported and strengthened during and after conflict. Education must be funded with the same sense of urgency as life-saving emergency assistance and must be made a central pillar of humanitarian assistance".

It is specified that "specialised, accelerated learning programmes for adolescents should form a key part of the emergency education response" and that "children, especially refugee and displaced children, should have the option of an education that respects their language, culture and identity".

The provision of education in all circumstances is a fundamental principle that guides UNESCO's emergency strategies and programmes which action in the field remains entirely collaborative and in partnership with the other Agencies as well as with NGOs operating for the same goal.

We are convinced that a quality education allows children to develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills, openness to others and respect of diversity. Learning opportunities should give the children hope, expertise to create stability and peaceful atmosphere even when facing considerable distress. Dakar's Forum has integrated this issue in its Framework of action.

3- Inter-agency Cooperation role

Education in Situations of Emergency and Crisis a recent intervening domain born with regards to the prevalence of situations of crisis throughout the world. Inter-agency cooperation's approach in this respect is based on five basic principles which called to be reinforced: Decentralization, information, cooperation, capacity building and prevention.

It is a question, inter alia, of:

  • Ensure strategic, normative and preventive functions in matter of emergency education

  • Assist Member States in definition of priorities, preparation and implementation of projects and specific programs

  • Promote in contexts of crisis universal values as the education for peace, tolerance, human rights including child's rights, and democracy.

  • Reinforce cooperation mechanisms with all our partners and particularly with the United Nations Agencies and the NGOs.

The coordination of the Framework of Action and EFA 2000 Follow-up as defined at the Forum of Dakar includes six major flagship inter-agency programmes inscribed on the agenda. It is about of:

  • The Inter-agency initiative FRESH (focusing Resources for effective school health)

  • The Inter-agency Working Group on AIDS and Education

  • The Early Childhood Regional Capacity Building Initiative

  • The Literacy For All initiative

  • The 10-Year United Nations Girls Education Initiative

  • The Initiative on Education in Situations of Emergency and Crisis

It should be identified for each initiative and not longer than 2002, objectives and programmes to be integrated in the National EFA Plans, implementation strategies as well as financial resource mobilization mechanisms on the basis of a large consultation process.

The setting-up of the WEB SITE by UNESCO in cooperation with the University of Pittsburgh in the field of GINIE Project (Global Information Networks Education) and expanded to all partners and Member States represents a good base for the inter-agency cooperation which should be strengthened.

4- The need of reinforcing the inter-agency cooperation

Inter-agency cooperation was established in 1998 in the light of the evaluation work "EFA Assessment Study" and was presented at the Dakar Strategy Session. UNESCO, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, Swedish International Development Agency (AIDS), Norwegian Council for Refugees (NRC), USAID and 7 other NGOs had to cooperate for this survey.

Thanks to this close collaboration, the Dakar April 2000 Strategy Session had the success we all know. Our presence here, today, is owed to this on-going success.

All of us have many responsibilities in the field of this inter-agency collaboration. Some of them are:

  • Participate at the definition of priorities and strategies and the implementation of Education in Situations of Emergency and Crisis

  • Assist countries concerned in the preparation of their National Plan and Framework of Action in components of Education in Situations of Emergency and Crisis

  • Put in place regional mechanisms to reinforce information sharing, capacities and exchanges between countries

  • Increase mobilization of resources and their efficient utilization

It is clear that the Dakar Framework of Action which aims to reach Education For All (EFA) objectives in 2015 would not make sense if millions of children remaining at the edge because of violence, armed conflicts, natural disasters or extreme poverty and would not exercise their rights to go to school under all circumstances. It is the challenge of the 21 Century for which ways and means should be defined in order to reach it.

5- Conditions of implementation of EFA Programme: The Strategy of Consultation

The inter-agency consultation which was held in Geneva from 8 to 10 November 2000 upon a large participation is a follow-up of ministers recommendations present in the Strategy Session on Education in Emergencies held as part of the Dakar Forum of April 2000. This consultation was convened jointly by UNESCO, UNHCR and UNICEF. The purpose is to "to agree on practical strategies and mechanisms to achieve more effective inter-agency collaboration at global, regional and country level" as recommended by Dakar Framework of Action.

In addition to the delegations from the 3 convening agencies, the meeting gathered representatives of WFP, UNDP, World Bank, bi-lateral donors and over 20 nongovernmental organisations currently engaged in education programmes in countries in crisis.

8 task teams had to debate of strategy and content issues related to:

  • Supplies and learning materials,

  • Education programmes (content),

  • Post-primary education, formal and non-formal,

  • Staff training in emergency education,

  • Girls' education in the field of the UN Girls' Education Initiative (UNGEI),

  • Sourcing of agency staff,

  • Information sharing and networks,

  • Programme coordination mechanisms

The meeting endorsed the following set of guiding principles as a basis for collaboration:

  • Commit to inter-agency collaboration at all levels (local, national, regional)

  • Prioritise country-level coordination

  • Avoid duplication

  • Build on existing mechanisms

  • Reinforce gender sensitivity, strive for gender balance

  • Open to any agency committed to education in emergencies

  • Share information and datas regarding situations

  • Appoint small time-bound, task-bound teams

  • Use virtual communication when possible

  • Define convenor role for task teams among agencies

  • Mobilise members of task teams to commit resources to achieve effectively the programmed tasks

  • Ensure input from and output to beneficiaries and communities without access to the network.

Within this framework the consultation reached a number of key agreement on interagency collaboration:

  • the network of organisations and individuals committed in Education for All in situations of emergencies and crisis should be sustained to promote and support effective and coherent coordination at local, national and regional level;

  • the "Network on Education in Emergencies" therefore established will have a mission, through its activities, to reinforce the coordination between the humanitarian assistance coordinating structures and the EFA programmes follow-up; the Network will be guided by a Steering Group consisting of representatives of UNESCO, UNHCR and UNICEF plus one donors representative and one representative NGO;

Four task teams with clear time-bound tasks were established in the following areas:

  • Information sharing and networking

  • Learning resources and supplies

  • Follow-up of implementation of education programmes in emergencies

  • Post-primary education, formal and non-formal.

The Network will use the existing GINIE website, in construction with UNESCO and Pittsburgh University with the support of USAID, and emer-edu listserve as the principal medium for sustaining information sharing and networking.

The implementation of this strategic and logistic framework would enable the elaboration of the National Emergency Plans before December 2002. The institutional and operational methods, settled meanwhile, would hence be able to follow-up the whole programmes and evaluate every year the steps with regards to the objectives of EFA 2015.