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WHS: New fund launched at UN humanitarian summit to address education in crisis zones

Nigerian refugee children at the Minawao refugee camp in Northern Cameroon.
UNICEF/Karel Prinsloo
Nigerian refugee children at the Minawao refugee camp in Northern Cameroon.

WHS: New fund launched at UN humanitarian summit to address education in crisis zones

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) today announced the launch of a new fund to better coordinate support for and drive investment in education for children and youth affected by humanitarian emergencies and protracted crises.

“Action now has to happen urgently because of the sheer scale of numbers of children impacted,” said UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown, who presented the 'Education Cannot Wait' fund at the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), a two-day conference that opened today in Istanbul, Turkey.

Specifically designed for education in emergencies, the fund aims to reach more than 13.6 million children and youth living in crisis situations, such as conflict, natural disasters and disease outbreaks, with quality education over the next five years.

“These young people are missing out on schooling and this is becoming a full-blown global crisis that will haunt the world for generations,” Mr. Brown stressed.

On average, the UN estimates that less than two percent of humanitarian aid currently goes towards funding education. Moreover, education systems equipped to cope with protracted crises cannot be built on the foundations of short-term – and unpredictable – appeals.

'Education Cannot Wait,' which has a funding target of $3.85 billion over five years, aims to bridge the gap between humanitarian interventions during crises and long-term development afterwards, through predictable funding.

As thousands of participants gathered at the Summit to discuss how to strengthen the humanitarian system to alleviate and prevent the suffering of millions worldwide, UNICEF warned that one in four of the world's school-aged children – nearly half a billion – live in countries affected by crises. Around 75 million of these children and youth are either already missing out on their education, receiving poor quality schooling or at risk of dropping out of school altogether.

A special session at the Summit underlined how education systems are being destroyed by violent armed conflict, natural disasters and health emergencies, robbing children of the skills they need to build safe, strong communities and economies when they reach adulthood.

Sarah Brown, the Executive Chair of the Global Business Coalition for Education and President of the children's charity TheirWorld, is giving a voice to refugee children by displaying some of their artwork at the Summit. Youth worldwide, many of whom fled the Syrian crisis, illustrated what a safe school means to them.

Sarah Brown talks about "TheirWorld" and Education Cannot Wait fund Credit: UN News Centre

The UN News Centre caught up with Ms. Brown at the Summit's exhibition fair. Her full radio interview can be accessed here.

“Children don't need education even in emergencies; they need education especially in emergencies,” stressed UNICEF's Executive Director, Anthony Lake.

“Without an education, how will they gain the knowledge and skills to chart their own futures – and to someday lend their hands to building more peaceful, stable futures for their societies? And how can we hope to reach our global development goals for education if we don't focus on children trapped in humanitarian emergencies – who represent almost half of all children out of school today?” Mr. Lake asked.

Answers to these questions will continue to be raised on the second and last day of the World Humanitarian Summit, as government representative and leaders from the private and public sectors work together to commit to the five core responsibilities of the UN Secretary-General's Agenda for Humanity:

  1. Prevent and end conflict
  2. Respect rules of war
  3. Leave no one behind
  4. Working differently to end need
  5. Invest in humanity