Remote schools face challenges of high wind and extreme weather – As relief pours into Yushu County, the epicentre of the 7.1-magnitude earthquake that struck China’s Qinghai province on 14 April, outlying areas on the Qinghai Plateau still require urgent attention.
In a recently concluded joint assessment mission to Yushu and Chenduo Counties, UNICEF and local education authorities discovered that students and teachers are struggling to resume classes amidst high winds and extreme weather.
The mission was timed to coincide with the second of UNICEF’s several shipments of 5,000 student kits, 5,000 sets of children’s winter jackets, trousers and socks, and 2,000 pairs of children’s boots – all distributed to children in Yushu and Chenduo Counties from 9 to 13 May.
Battling sleet and snow
More than 200 km away from the epicentre, Qingshuihe Primary School in Chenduo County sits exposed among snow-capped mountains at an altitude of 4,500 metres. UNICEF and its partners battled snow and sleet to reach the school.
Around 1,300 students and 120 teachers there have been able to resume classes in UNICEF-supplied winterized school tents.
About 99 per cent of school buildings serving the student population of 100,000 in Chenduo County sustained too much structural damage in the quake to be used safely for classes or dormitory space. In the days following the disaster, UNICEF rushed 150 winterized school tents to nine school jurisdiction areas, allowing 7,500 students to return to school.
“Without the tents provided by UNICEF, it would have been impossible for us to fully resume classes after the earthquake,” said Chenduo County Vice-Governor Suo He.
Concerns about continued schooling
“We’ve seen very little assistance reach these places,” UNICEF China Deputy Representative David McLoughlin said during the mission. “UNICEF has been able to deliver school tents with double insulation so that children can resume schooling. It’s a great privilege for us to be able to help, yet challenges remain because this high-altitude plateau area suffers from extreme weather conditions.”
The year-round average temperature in the area is minus 5 degrees Celsius, and the winter lasts for eight months, added Mr. McLoughlin. “We are looking at the government plan and will support its efforts to ensure that the children here can have quality education,” he said.
Headmasters and local education officials in Chenduo voiced deep concern that schooling may only last until the end of August. By then, the hazardous cold season will set in and winterized tents will not be sufficient to shelter students against the plateau’s low temperatures, snow, sleet and severe winds. Though schools in Yushu County are moving towards prefabricated classrooms, it may take much longer to set up such facilities in Chenduo and other areas that were less-affected by the earthquake but where needs are nonetheless urgent.
‘Tough time for the children’
UNICEF is working closely with local counterparts to identify isolated schools where educational supplies remain inadequate. The agency will help children in such schools enjoy equal access to continuous, quality education. UNICEF is also looking at the needs of boarding schools, where a large majority of students and teachers now live in tents without decent hygiene and warm clothes.
“It’s a very tough time for the children, but they are so keen to be back in school. This is an area with a high degree of poverty and the children desperately want education,” said Mr. McLoughlin.
In addition to support for emergency education, UNICEF is assisting the relief efforts of the Government of China in maternal and child health, hygiene, sanitation an