Keep schools out of the conflict says UNESCO Director General as UN launches Gaza Crisis Appeal

UNESCO, August 3, 2014

Paris, 4 August 2014 – On Friday 1 August, the United Nations launched the 2014 Gaza Crisis Appeal in order to respond to urgent humanitarian needs in Gaza. Education facilities and schools are on the front line of this crisis. A large number of civilians in Gaza have sought shelter and safety in schools, which are overcrowded and where living conditions are increasingly harsh. At least seven UNRWA schools serving as shelters have been hit resulting in multiple civilian fatalities and casualties. In total, at least 137 schools have been reported damaged so far.

“Schools in Gaza have become the symbol of an unfolding human tragedy,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.  “The protection of schools cannot wait. It is essential for the protection of civilians, and it is a pre-condition to start getting the education system back to normalcy as soon as circumstances permit.”

UNESCO’s response within the U.N Appeal focuses on the protection of education. Building on extensive experience in protecting education from attack, UNESCO will seek to improve the safety of the education environment and mitigate the distress affecting teachers and learners through psychosocial support, recreational activities and innovative classroom practices. This programme will benefit the most vulnerable secondary public schools throughout the Gaza strip and in particular in the Access Restricted Area (Buffer Zone).

“It is critical that boys and girls, as well as education staff, feel safe in their schools to effectively teach and learn. The continuity of education is vital to contain further violence and prevent any aggravation of the crisis,” said the Director-General. “Keeping schools free from any sort of military use is equally vital. I reiterate my call on all parties to do so.”

An estimated half a million students and over 25 000 school staff are currently in Gaza. The Gaza Crisis Appeal estimates that 11 million dollars are required to respond to emergency education needs. It is critical that urgent funding and action for education is provided to ensure the protection of an already fragile education system “I call on all donors to contribute to this appeal and support education programs that are crucial for the present and for a peaceful future in the region.” said the Director General.   

UNESCO’s commitment to stand up for the protection of the right to education during conflict has been reaffirmed on several occasions recently, including through the recently released Guidance Note on the Implementation of the Security Council Resolution 1998 (“attacks on schools and hospitals”), which calls on Member States to prevent attacks on schools and hospitals, as well as their military use.  As a member of the Global Coalition to Protect Education From Attack, UNESCO is acting across the world to protect schools and the right to education in countries affected by conflict, including South Sudan and Afghanistan.