‘Prioritise education, girls’ plight in cyclone-hit areas’

By Farai Matiashe

Plan International has called on government to prioritise initiatives that ensure children, particularly young girls, have access to quality education in line with international standards and to provide services that prevent girls from being sexually exploited in Cyclone Idai-affected areas.

The tropical cyclone, which hit parts of Manicaland and Masvingo provinces in March this year, was the costliest natural disaster in the region, causing damage estimated at over US$2 billion and killing more than 1 000 people in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe, the cyclone killed 344 people with at least 257 people still missing. It caused extensive damage in Chimanimani and Chipinge and affected 270 000 people, with 15 000 having been displaced.

In its report titled Building Back Better! Focusing on Education in Emergencies in Cyclone Idai Affected Zimbabwe and Mozambique, Plan International noted that education was the most affected sector in the cyclone-hit areas.

“Children face trauma from having homes and schools (often their safe places) damaged, the loss of family members, displacement and general disruption to the social fabric. Too often, in emergencies, psychosocial support is not prioritised and girls have particular difficulty accessing available services,” the report read.

“Donors should ensure that funds for health include funds for psycho-social services and prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse in and out of schools and urge government and implementing partners to ensure that children and girls also have full access to these services.”

The organisation said young girls were at high risk of child marriage after their livelihoods were affected.

“Schooling and non-formal education programmes enable the exchange of essential life-saving messages. Such messages may include education for human rights, prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, basic health and hygiene, HIV and Aids awareness and prevention, education for disaster risk reduction and education for sustainable development. Therefore, it is critical that we put education at the heart of interventions, especially in the early recovery phase,” Plan International said.

Research shows that adolescent girls, who are often among the most vulnerable in post-disaster settings, have special needs and face specific protection concerns, including a heightened risk of gender-based violence and sexual abuse as family and protective social structures are disrupted.

“Community protection mechanisms systems must be put in place, or revitalised to prevent sexual harassment, exploitation, abuse, or physical and emotional harm to school children, especially girls, as well as teachers. Community-based and school-based child protection mechanisms should be quickly established or re-strengthened to allow children to report sexual violence and refer them to appropriate and child-focused services,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, the Public Service Commission (PSC) said it lost four members, three in Chimanimani and one in Chipinge.

“Information available to government this far indicates that the toll inflicted on the Public Service by Cyclone Idai, apart from loss of accommodation, household property and projects for livelihood support, also took the form of tragic loss of lives, serious injury and the painful uncertainty of members who are yet to be accounted for,” the PSC said in a statement.

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