Nine thousand children go back to school

Project completed
Pakstani schoolchildren seated in rows.
The SDC ensures education for Pakistani girls: 40 per cent of renovated classrooms are for girls. © SDC SDC

In 2010, Pakistan was devastated by terrible floods. After providing emergency aid to the people, Swiss Humanitarian Aid began to rebuild schools and sanitary facilities. In the first instance, several thousand schoolchildren have now returned to classes. In many cases, schools had to be rebuilt on new sites. This required a genuine relationship of trust between local communities and authorities.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Humanitarian Assistance & DRR
Reconstruction and rehabilitation (till 2016)
10.11.2012 - 31.12.2016
CHF  3’670’000

The Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, in north-western Pakistan, was one of the areas hardest hit by flooding in the summer of 2010. This region was therefore the logical choice for the SDC to provide assistance to devastated residents. Once the emergency aid had been brought in, Swiss Humanitarian Aid experts made infrastructure rehabilitation a priority, as was the case after the earthquake that had previously struck the region in 2005. Reconstruction of destroyed or damaged schools, as well as other infrastructure, began in the summer of 2011.

Eleven schools completely rebuilt
Almost four years after the flood, close to 9,000 pupils in the Swat Valley have now returned to classrooms, notebooks and teachers. Eleven brand new primary schools have opened, while 30 other partially damaged public schools have been rehabilitated. One would term it a little miracle, given the region’s mountainous terrain: “When the lack of roads made it impossible to transport the usual construction materials, we opted for prefabricated buildings,” explains Ernesto Morosin, the on-site Swiss Humanitarian Aid coordinator. Sometimes the greatest obstacle to accessibility is the chronic insecurity that plagues this region situated on the border of tribal areas and Afghanistan.

Negotiating new construction sites
Throughout the project, only a close cooperation with the local communities made the rehabilitation work possible. Quite often, school structures had to be rebuilt on new sites owned by villagers, as the original site had been devastated by the flooding or landslides. Tribal and religious leaders, elders’ councils and local residents were therefore all involved in the process. “We had to negotiate with the communities and convince them to rebuild the schools in the heart of their villages, for safety reasons, although level land is a scare commodity in this mountainous region,” says Ernesto Morosin.

In turn, government authorities used to question the need to rebuild schools in a new location, before releasing the funds to purchase the new sites. It was never a foregone conclusion, since construction work started before the deed of sale was signed. And only after work was completed did the villagers selling the land finally receive their payment. None of this would have been possible without the strong commitment of the communities and the SDC.

The rehabilitated schools have now been designed to withstand future natural disasters. They also all have proper sanitary facilities, what ensures that girls feel comfortable. 40 per cent of the rehabilitated classrooms will be used for them. This marks genuine progress in a region with a still very conservative mentality that normally denies girls a formal education.

Governmental commitment
Maintaining its momentum, the SDC will fund the construction of 17 more schools by mid-2015 in the project’s second phase. These will provide 81 new classrooms for a total of 3,000 pupils. At the same time, an additional 7,000 schoolchildren will benefit from rehabilitation work on defective buildings.

For schools needing a new site, the procedure will be simpler this time. Provincial authorities have made a commitment to steer the land acquisition process themselves in future. The Government’s involvement reflects a new awareness at the highest levels of the infrastructure needs of rural communities. This in itself will guarantee a real sustainability for the SDC’s efforts in the region.