Pakistani three-year-old Afshan’s trip to school is a high-wire balancing act, as she teeters across a metal girder spanning a trench of putrid floodwater, eyes fixed ahead.
After record monsoon rain flooded her classroom in the southeastern town of Chandan Mori, this is the route Afshan and her siblings traverse to a tent where her lessons take place.
“It’s a risky business to send children to school crossing that bridge,” Afshan’s father, Abdul Qadir, 23, said. “But we are compelled ... to secure their future, and our own.”
In Pakistan, where one-third of the country lives in hardship on less than US$4 a day, education is a rare ticket out of grinding poverty.
This summer, floods destroyed or damaged 27,000 schools and spurred a humanitarian disaster which saw 7,000 more commandeered as aid centers, the UN Children’s Fund said.
The education of 3.5 million children has been disrupted as a result, the charity said.
“Everything has gone away, we lost our studies,” said 10-year-old Kamran Babbar, who lives in a nearby tent city since his home and school were submerged.
Before the rains, which have been linked to climate change, Afshan followed her sisters to a lime green schoolhouse.
About two-and-a-half months after they finally abated, her school remains swamped by standing water.
More than 300 boys and girls have decamped to three tents where they sit on floors lined with plastic sheeting, answering teachers’ questions in chorus.
As midday approaches the tents are baked by the sun, and students fan themselves with notebooks — quenching their thirst with mouthfuls of cloudy, polluted floodwater.
Many cannot summon the strength to stand when called to answer questions by teacher Noor Ahmed.
“When they fall sick, and the majority of them do, it drastically affects attendance,” he said.
In this conservative corner of Pakistan, many girls are already held back from school, groomed for lives of domestic labor.
Those students that were enrolled had their prospects dampened by hunger and malnutrition even before the monsoon washed away vast tracts of crops.
Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic saw schools shut for 16 months.
The floods — which put one-third of Pakistan underwater and displaced 8 million — are yet one more hurdle many would not overcome.
“We are nurturing an ailing generation,” Ahmed said.
In the nearby town of Mounder, the monsoon storms tore the roof off the government school.
The walls are cracked and crumbling, and students now congregate outside, fearful of a collapse.
The boys learn under the shade of a tree in the courtyard, while the girls gather nearby in a donated tent.
“Such events will leave an everlasting traumatic impact on the girls,” teacher Rabia Iqbal said.
“If we want to make them mentally healthy, we will have to immediately move them from tents to proper classrooms,” she added.
The return to school is unlikely to be swift.
Analysis suggests the bill for the reconstruction of schools and recovery of the education system would be nearly US$1 billion — the total repair bill is close to US$40 billion — in a nation already mired in economic turmoil.
Undaunted by the difficulties ahead, the girls of Chandan Mori’s high school trudge every day to a temporary classroom 3km away.
“We will not be defeated by such circumstances,” 13-year-old Shaista Panwar said.
Philippine vlogger Rosanel Demasudlay holds a heart-shaped “virginity soap” bar in front of the camera and assures her hundreds of YouTube followers that it can be safely used to “tighten” their vaginas. The video is part of a barrage of bogus and harmful medical posts on social media platforms where Filipinos rank among the world’s heaviest users. Even before COVID-19 pandemic restrictions confined people to their homes and left them fearful of seeing a doctor, many in the Philippines sought remedies online because they were cheaper and easier to access. During the pandemic, the Agence France-Presse’s (AFP) Fact Check team saw an explosion
BACKING THE APPLICATION: Ankara’s move is expected to enable Helsinki to join the alliance, while the Turkish president is still opposed to backing Sweden’s application Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday ended months of diplomatically charged delays and asked the Turkish parliament to back Finland’s bid to join NATO. A simultaneous decision by fellow holdout Hungary to schedule a Finnish ratification vote for March 27 means the US-led defense alliance would likely grow to 31 nations within a few months. NATO’s expansion into a country with a 1,340km border with Russia would double the length of the bloc’s frontier with its Cold War-era foe. Finland had initially aimed to join together with fellow NATO aspirant Sweden, which is facing a litany of disputes with Turkey that
LEADERS MEET: Australia’s Anthony Albanese met Fiji’s Sitiveni Rabuka to reiterate that the submarines would not carry nuclear weapons, amid unease over the plan A former Australian prime minister yesterday rubbished the country’s landmark nuclear-powered submarine deal, saying that it unnecessarily targeted China and could have “deadly consequences.” Australia on Monday announced that it would buy up to five US submarines in an ambitious effort to bulk up Western muscle in the face of a rising China. With the help of the US and UK, Australia is also embarking on a 30-year plan to build its own fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said that the deal was the country’s biggest-ever military upgrade, while US President Joe Biden said it would ensure that the
WHO WINS? Chinese projects do not ultimately reduce local unemployment as they use Chinese labor, while Russia’s Wagner group has been accused of rights abuses in Africa China and Russia are bolstering their presence in Africa to tap its rich natural resources, analysts say, amid grave warnings from UN agencies that the world’s poorest countries face crippling debts. “One out of every three major infrastructure projects in Africa is built by Chinese state-owned enterprises, and one out of every five is financed by a Chinese policy bank,” said Paul Nantulya, a research associate at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, an academic institution within the US Department of Defense. Russia, a key arms exporter to Africa, is also making forays into the continent, including through mining projects granted to