Bolivia: Floods trigger education crisis

5 June, 2014
March 2014, Beni, Bolivia:A young girls studies at a relocation site in Trinidad, a city in northern Bolivia's Amazon region. Tens of thousands of children have had their access to education cut as a result of the floods. Credit: OCHA/Antonio Miranda
March 2014, Beni, Bolivia:A young girls studies at a relocation site in Trinidad, a city in northern Bolivia's Amazon region. Tens of thousands of children have had their access to education cut as a result of the floods. Credit: OCHA/Antonio Miranda

José is 8 years old and his favourite subject is mathematics. He normally attends the Mangalito School in Trinidad, the capital of the Bolivian Department of Beni. But for the past three months, his school low-lying part of northern Bolivia has been closed.

Since late December 2013, flooding across the country has affected an estimated 315,000 people. The flooding has been especially severe in the low lying Amazon regions in the country’s north and east.

Authorities have reported extensive damage to infrastructure. The Ministry of Education reports that approximately 1,000 schools have been damaged, affecting an estimated 250,000 students.

In Beni alone, the Department of Education says that 230 schools, 60,000 students and over 800 teachers have been affected. The schools that have survived the deluge have become displacement sites. José's school is now home to dozens of families. José himself sleeps with his family in one of the classrooms.

250,000 children affected in the country

As many as 450 schools across the country are now being used as temporary shelters.

"Thousands of students are unable to attend classes because of the damage caused by the floods, their families have been moved to safe places and many schools have become temporary shelters,” said Miguel Angel Marquez, the Director of Beni’s Department of Education.

This is not uncommon in Bolivia. Schools are often some of the best built and safest buildings in rural Bolivia. When disaster strikes people often seek shelter in them.

Aid agencies trying to get families out of schools

International aid agencies, including OCHA, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are working with the Government to relocate the families that are housed in schools.

"In this scenario, the efforts of the Government and international assistance are concentrated on setting up camps, which – among other things - will allow affected families to leave schools and be accommodated in more appropriate places," said Adán Pari Rodríguez, an Education Officer with UNICEF.

UNICEF, working with its local partners, has set up more than 50 educational tents to serve as temporary classrooms. They have also established a number of child friendly spaces. These spaces are equipped with educational materials and supplies, they also have support staff.

"With these and other actions like school transportation and school rehabilitation, UNICEF, together with the National and Departmental Governments, aim to guarantee the right of children to education and recreation in appropriate environments," said Mr. Pari.

The OCHA-managed Central Emergency Response Fund released US$3.4 million to assist people affected by floods in Beni. About $140,000 has been allocated to the education sector to help restore and provide educational and recreational spaces for affected children and adolescents.

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