The Pakistan quake: Why 10,000 schools collapsed
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"Definitely the government is interested in investigating this. But the first priority is to rehabilitate the people," says Shafiullah Khan, the special secretary of the schools and literacy department of NWFP.Skip to next paragraph
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So far the only investigation undertaken since the quake is a criminal probe by the police into the collapse of the Margalla Towers, a luxury apartment high-rise in Islamabad.
Parents, meanwhile, are not waiting around for the government. Prompted by growing fears, they're taking matters into their own hands, directly confronting school administrations about safety.
Zarina Jillani's children attend Froebel's International School in Islamabad, which was partially damaged in the quake. "The school administration tried to conceal the cracks, but the parents found out," she describes.
Following an angry showdown between parents and the school administration, Ms. Jillani says, the municipal authority stepped in, ordering the school shut down until an independent body can certify the building's safety.
Activists hope that a full investigation into the weakness of public structures across the quake zone can lead to better safety measures in the future.
But many say that, even without an investigation, the devastation of schools can be put down to the widespread corruption in government building projects.
"The problem with government schools is that there is so much corruption with construction that many materials are not used," says Sameen Mehmood Jan, an opposition member of the NWFP provincial assembly. "I know [the buildings] are not seismic proof, but at least the roofs shouldn't have collapsed the way they did."
Experts estimate that between 30 and 60 percent of funds for government buildings, including schools, are siphoned off by corrupt officials. Contractors squeezed by such kickbacks have less to spend on materials, experts explain, resulting in poor quality buildings.
"This was a common practice throughout Pakistan, but particularly in NWFP. We've been tolerating this kind of corruption in Pakistan for years," says Ms. Gohar.
Observers say corruption in Pakistan has picked up in the past few decades, particularly since the 1970s, when banks and industries were nationalized, and when international aid pouring into the country, following another large-scale earthquake, was allegedly pocketed by corrupt officials.
As answers to this latest tragedy await, relief workers and government officials are doing their best to provide children with a semblance of education. Tent schools have appeared at many camps in Balakot, offering basic classes to a growing number of children. Sometimes that means just having the children draw, anything to keep their minds off the tragedy.
"The schooling will be different - it won't be serious school," says Sarah Crawford Browne, a coordinator with Church World Service, which is developing a school curriculum with UNICEF. "If we can create a comfortable environment, the kids will get through this," Ms. Crawford Browne adds.
On a recent afternoon, Hajura Haroon, an 8-year-old, smiled and blushed at the Army tent school in Balakot, a Pakistani flag freshly painted on her cheek. Like Kaleem, she was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Anik Walagin, a popular children's television program scheduled to appear later that afternoon.
Lt. Col. Saeed Iqbal, holding Hajura in his arms, said the Army's first priority is rebuilding hospitals and schools. Until then, tent schools like this will reach out to as many children as possible, whose numbers, he noted happily, are already increasing.
"When we opened, we expected there would be 35 kids, but when we started the school there were 80," Colonel Iqbal said. "So kids are coming."