UN to raise $3.8 billion for education in war zones and natural disaster areas

A UN envoy announced the creation of the Education Cannot Wait Fund at the controversial World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. 

Gregorio Borgia/AP
Children learn inside a makeshift school in a refugee camp near the northern Greek border May 2. A UN envoy announced the creation of a fund that will support children displaced because of war or natural disasters.

Because of Syria's civil war, 2.6 million Syrian children have stopped attending school. In war-torn Iraq, the classrooms in 1,200 schools were closed to turn the buildings into shelters. In South Sudan, 400,000 children withdrew from school.  

To ensure these children receive an education, as well as the 75 million children worldwide whose learning was disrupted by war or natural disaster, a $3.8 billion fund was launched Monday, announced Gordon Brown, the United Nations' Special Envoy for Global Education, at the first World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.  

“We believe that this fund will offer young people hope, because when we ask ourselves what breaks the lives of once thriving young children, it’s not just the Mediterranean wave that submerged the life vest, it’s not just the food convoy that does not arrive in Syria, it is also the absence of hope; the soul crushing certainty that there is nothing ahead to plan or prepare for, not even a place in school,” said Mr. Brown, a former British prime minister, in a statement. 

The Education Cannot Wait fund aims to reach at least 13.6 million children over the next five years and 75 million children by 2030, according to UNICEF.  

As The Christian Science Monitor's Howard LaFranchi noted Sunday, "The Education Cannot Wait fund is perhaps the boldest statement to date of a growing conviction within the global aid community – that the separation between life-saving humanitarian intervention and life-enhancing development assistance makes less and less sense."  

"Traditionally, the two have been different," writes Mr. LaFranchi. "But as conflicts stretch longer and climate-related disasters intensify, more people are being displaced longer, and humanitarian crises are evolving into development setbacks." 

Though many humanitarians lauded the creation of the fund, others were concerned its emphasis on long-term development will incidentally draw away from emergency relief.  

The fund aims to address the lack of education funding in war zones and areas recovering from natural disasters, as only 2 percent of emergency relief funding goes toward education, according to UNICEF. And children not attending school are susceptible to human trafficking, labor exploitation and extremism, said Brown.  

The fund – to be seeded by governments, international organizations, businesses and philanthropists – will support local NGOs because they can deliver education much more cheaply and quickly than UN agencies or the World Bank, reported the Thomson Reuters Foundation.  

The fund is expected to offer up to five years of emergency funding for education, and encourage philanthropists to deliver education in an innovative manner, such as through online courses, according to UNICEF. It will prioritize refugee children and children forcibly displaced inside their countries, as well as children living in communities hosting them.  

Although some said the fund is part of a needed shift in long-term humanitarian relief, Doctors Without Borders, the medical organization, abruptly pulled out of the summit, because it in part feared the summit would "short-change" emergency intervention, writes the Monitor's LaFranchi.  

“We no longer have any hope that the [summit] will address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response,” the group said in a statement last week. “Instead, the [summit] focus would seem to be an incorporation of humanitarian assistance into a broader development and resilience agenda.” 

The fund is just one of several broad agenda items world leaders are addressing at the two-day summit to solve what Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, said is the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II

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