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A fragile network washed away

Restoring flood-devastated schools is a major priority. Karen MacGregor reports on where funding is most needed.

THE FLOODS that raged through southern Mozambique, claiming thousands of lives and leaving a quarter of a million people destitute, also flattened some 600 primary schools and interrupted 200,000 children's education.

In the devastating wake of the floods, as summer sun dries the waters that burst the banks of the Limpopo and Save rivers, one priority of the government and relief agencies such as the United Nations Children's Fund is to clean, repair and restock schools.

The objective, said Cooper Dawson, UNICEF's education project officer in Mozambique, is to restore schools to pre-flood levels and return afflicted children's lives to something near normal, as soon as possible. But what is "normal" in Mozambique?

Nearly three decades of war - first against Portuguese colonisers, who were kicked out in 1975, and then civil conflict between the ruling party Frelimo and Renamo rebels - froze development in this poor south-east African state.

Peace was achieved in 1992 and democratic elections in 1994, but still few Mozambicans progress beyond five years of schooling. In 1998, 1.8 million children out of a population of 16 million were in grades one to five, representing 40 per cent of six to 10-year-olds (50 per cent if over-age pupils are included). Participationfalls sharply to 2 per cent of 11 to 12-year-olds in grades six and seven, and 1.7 per cent of the 13 to 17 years age group in secondary school.

"Because most schools only go to grade five, that is where relief work is focused," Cooper Dawson said. "Our concern is to help the government get learning back into classrooms - to get schools cleaned and learning materials provided."

One problem is that no one yet knows the full extent of the flood damage.

"We are working on estimates, and assisting the authorities in the six provinces hit to assess how many schools are affected, and how badly," said Cooper Dawson.

Some are worse off than others. In Gaza, where the floods created a vast inland sea and thousands of people were rescued from trees and rooftops, I saw a school in Chibuto reduced to a mud-swept shell. Many others, made of local materials, were washed away.

UNICEF's first estimates are that two million dollars will be needed to get basic provisions to the 200,000 pupils in the 600 ruined schools. This excludes basic textbooks that the government has in stock. The Fund does not have that kind of money, but has received some pledges.

The breakdowns are pound;2 per child (for an exercise book and writing materials), pound;1.75 per teacher, pound;620 per school (charts, a blackboard, clock, stationery, football and volleyball), and pound;65 per school for cleaning materials.

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