Drowned schools in political cross currents
By Faraza Farook andNilika Kasturisinghe
Undercurrents of party politics arising out of the co-habitation crisis appear to be blocking a massive reconstruction and rehabilitation programme to salvage hundreds of schools which were virtually drowned in the recent floods. With nearly half of the student population in the Ratnapura district displaced and similar reports from other flood and landslide affected areas, thousands of children and schools await relief.
School books have been destroyed, desks, chairs and buildings in some of the schools have been either totally or partially damaged and some of the children still languish in makeshift camps.

As the government has begun its battle to reconstruct damaged buildings, provide relief assistance to the school children, provide land for the displaced, one of the issues the authorities have been facing has been conflicting estimates by the provincial educational authorities and the Ministry of Education on the extent of damage to schools. While the Ministry of Education is under the UNP run central government some of the provincial education ministries come under the PA controlled Provincial Councils.

The Ministry of Education is challenging the estimates provided by the Provincial Education Departments on the damage to schools. Sri Sumana Saman Vidyalaya in Ratnapura for instance, has estimated Rs.1 million for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the buildings. However, this estimate is being challenged on the grounds that much damage could not have been caused to the building, which had only 1 ½ feet of water.

Education Ministry officials argue that not more than the foundations could have been submerged and therefore the damage could be rectified with about Rs. 10,000.
"The Education Ministry officials should be encouraging us and assisting us to restore the education in the flood ravaged schools, rather than arguing over details," Sabaragamuwa Province Education Director M.P.T Navaratne told The Sunday Times.

He charged that some people were trying to become floody heroes overnight rather than getting down to the practicalities of the situation. While the Central and Provincial authorities controlled by different political parties are clashing over the extent of damage and who does what, relief is pouring in.

The Australian Government has offered to rebuild 40 schools that have been completely damaged. Some 8000 students from schools in Ratnapura, Galle, Matara and Hambantota districts are likely to benefit from this. The aid of US $ 250,000 will be used to restore water and sanitation facilities and to buy equipment such as furniture, blackboards, chalk and learning material for classrooms, school kits and material for school uniforms.

Both the Government and the UN childrens' fund UNICEF are looking at providing school children with tailored uniforms instead of material. Minister Karu Jayasuriya who heads the Sub Committee on Disaster Management said the government was looking at utilizing the services of Sathosa and Salu Sala to provide tailored uniforms.
The Sampath Bank is to rebuild three schools while the Bank of Ceylon has undertaken the rehabilitation of ten schools in the Ratnapura district.

Meanwhile a meeting was held on Wednesday at Isurupaya to brief the Principals of national schools regarding the immediate needs of the students in flood ravaged parts of the country. Schools other than those completely destroyed in the floods are open but the children are not yet returning to school due to unhygienic conditions, lack of clothing, school material and psychosocial trauma of losing family members.

Minister Jayasuriya said that the services of NGOs such as 'Sahanaya' would be obtained to help those psychologically affected due to the trauma of the worst ever floods in more than 50 years. A circular has been issued by the Ministry of Education informing the children they can attend school in coloured clothes.

The A/Level examination which was disrupted by the flood havoc will be completed with the final paper being held today. A total of 1356 students from Galle, Hambantota, Kalutara, Matara, and Ratnapura districts were expected to sit the last paper today with the largest number of 460 coming from Kalutara. Students who could not complete the exam this year due to the floods would have to sit for the exam next year. The Grade 5 scholarship exam scheduled for August has been postponed to December.

Although exams have been postponed, the students are worried that they will be losing a lot of time. When the education ministry officials visited the flood affected areas, anxious parents had expressed fears that their children's studies would be disrupted due to lack of books and a proper environment to prepare for an examination.

The surplus textbooks printed each year were sent to the schools in the flood affected areas on Wednesday. Initially school books were provided to the worst affected educational zones Nivithigala, Hakmana and Walasmulla. Schools have also been asked to return extra books to make up for any shortages. On Friday, books were dispatched to the other affected schools in the Southern Province, Ministry sources said.

Some schools have suffered damage to technical equipment including audio visuals and computer units as water levels sometimes reached upto 50 ft and left behind 1 ½ feet of mud.

The Ratnapura GA's office said damage to educational buildings had been estimated at Rs. 21 million and equipment at Rs. 7 million. In the Matara district seven schools have been completely destroyed, 71 partially, while 4,475 chairs have been damaged. In the Galle District 32 schools have been affected. The worst affected Lankagama Vidyalaya requires an estimated Rs. 2 mn to be rebuilt.

Some schools in Elpitiya, Matara, Morawaka and Deniyaya are still being used as welfare centres.

Committee seeks international aid for restoration

The Cabinet Sub-Committee on Disaster Management is preparing a project proposal in coordination with UN Disaster Management experts to seek international assistance for the rehabilitation of flood-affected areas. A report on the relief and restoration programme by the Sub-Committee stated that while assessments on the extent of damage was still being worked out, the cost of rehabilitation and reconstruction was likely to run into several billion rupees.

The Committee intends to request the Ambassador in Geneva to convene a donor gathering on June 10, to seek international assistance for the restoration programme.
Some of the recommendations of the report included the prohibition of resettling people in landslide prone areas; an integrated communication network between the Met department and the National Building Research Organisation to alert people and the government of any potential dangers in the future and the establishment of a permanent Disaster Management Unit with UN assistance.

An official said the committee was now looking into the resettlement of displaced people by providing funds, construction materials, land and credit facilities.The assistance of the University of Moratuwa, Organisation of Professional Association (OPA) and the Department of Census and Statistics have been sought to assess the damage to houses and other buildings.

The report has also highlighted the threat of disease and poor water and sanitation facilities with many people still living in makeshift centres. Sporadic cases of diorrheoa, sore eyes and skin diseases have been reported from some areas, but they haven't reached alarming proportions, the report said. Hospitals which were earlier affected due to a shortage of facilities such as power, communication and water have now been restored to normalcy, the report said

They need foster parents
With many children being affected in the recent destruction, the Social Services Ministry has called for foster parents both locally and internationally to assist more than 60,000 children below the age of 15 years.

Director-in-charge of the Foster Parents Campaign, Vinitha Weerasekera said that continuous assistance was necessary but the response had been poor so far. She said Rs. 3000 was required for a child for a year and the assistance was required for a minimum of three years.

Those who wish to be foster parents could contact the Sevana Sarana Foster Parents Scheme, at the Ministry of Social Services, Sethsiripaya, Battaramulla.

Flood cover for school closure?
Education officials expressed fears that on the pretext of renovating rural schools in flood-affected areas, authorities might revive a World Bank sponsored programme of closing down poorly-attended schools.

But Education Ministry officials have assured that no school in the flood-ravaged parts of the country would be shut down. "More than 300 schools have been badly damaged in the recent floods but none of these schools will be closed down," Education Ministry's Additional Director Indrani Kariyawasam said.

Education officials said earlier the government was under pressure from the World Bank to close down schools with poor student attendance although such a move would be counter-productive on a long-term basis in maintaining a high literacy rate.
The Sunday Times learns the Education Ministry has suspended the programme of closing down of rural schools with poor student attendance and is awaiting the report of a team to take a decision.

Displaced students
According to Government statistics, 50% of students in the Ratnapura district have been displaced due to the floods. Although some schools have now re-opened school attendance is low, education officials say.

Those who wish to help these displaced students could call: 342993.
Figures of displaced students of some of the schools in Ratnapura are as follows;
Mihindu Vidyalaya - 700, Aloysius Vidyalaya - 500, Sri Sumana Balika - 696, Batugedara M.V. - 493, Dharmapala Vidyalaya- 400, Sivali Vidyalaya - 381,Ferguson Vidyalaya - 300, Hattongama Vidyalaya - 275, and Infant Jesus Convent - 255.

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