Ishtiaq Khalid is having a snow day, forced to stay home from his school in the Pakistani district of Shangla due to inclement weather — but unlike most 12-year-olds, he is not happy about it.
Last month a powerful earthquake destroyed 200 schools and damaged hundreds more in Pakistan’s northwest, including Ishtiaq’s, leaving thousands of shivering children to study without shelter under wintry skies.
It is a massive setback in an area that has not yet been able to rebuild the schools destroyed in an even more devastating quake a decade ago, and where more than a quarter of primary school age children already do not attend classes.
Another 5.9-magnitude quake shook the region late Sunday, and while no major damage was reported, it underscored the point.
Parts of his school were reduced to rubble in the 7.5 magnitude quake that ripped across Afghanistan and Pakistan on October 26, killing nearly 400 people.
“We were happy with the reopening despite attending the classes under open sky and siting on ground,” Ishtiaq told AFP.
The teachers can fit inside, he said, but the students cannot.
– Closed for winter –
And with cold weather settling in, they may have to close the schools entirely days before the official start of the winter break.
“We are not using the school buildings even with partial damage… Vacation may be announced a week earlier.”
Most of them were in the mountainous districts of Shangla, Upper and Lower Dir, and the scenic Swat valley, where schools destroyed during the Taliban’s brief 2007-2009 rule are also being rebuilt.
Some schools were in far-flung villages on remote hilltops where mules are the primary form of transport, making reconstruction especially difficult.
– Ten years of tents –
“We were planning phase-wise arrangements to re-rebuild those 760 buildings… but the recent quake completely destroyed 200 more,” Alam told AFP.
A decade on, thousands of students are still making an arduous comute to schools in other villages or studying in rented buildings, while some have been provided with big tents in which to hold classes, Alam said.
“We are worried. We keep the school bags in rooms and then take classes in the courtyard, under open sky,” the seventh-grader told AFP.
A solid structure might be a help, but Mehmood pointed out, “we have no desks and sit on the floor.”