Building back better: post-earthquake responses and educational challenges in Pakistan
by Jackie Kirk
The critical role of education in relief and early reconstruction in the aftermath of natural disasters, such as earthquakes, has only recently been acknowledged in international fora. Only days after the devastating earthquake of 8 October 2005, children, their families, and communities in the affected areas of northern Pakistan began to prioritize education as a critical service that should be resumed as quickly as possible. They desired to provide a sense of normalcy, routine, and continuity, to ensure uninterrupted progress through school, and to ensure that students did not miss out on important knowledge and skills. Education and protection specialists were also aware that opportunities for learning, even in tents and other makeshift classrooms, were an important child-protection strategy in difficult times. Despite the devastation, the loss of life, and the awareness that reconstruction would take many years, there was also a window of opportunity to improve the education system and to significantly increase education access and quality. The Government of Pakistan’s call to build back better captured this potential. Yet, fulfilling the promise of education in the immediate relief and early recovery phases was not easy. It required preparedness, strategic planning, co-ordination, and partnership.
This study of the education sector’s response to the Pakistan earthquake documents the ways in which education actors were able to respond to the needs of children in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake. It highlights the importance of emergency preparedness in an area prone to natural disasters, of strong government leadership, and of systematic sector co-ordination.. In this, government authorities, donors, and education actors in UN and NGO agencies all have important roles to play.