As of 2015, there have been approximately 700,000 internally displaced persons in the volatile North Waziristan region of Pakistan as a consequence of Taliban insurgency. Of these 700,000, around 300,000 are children of a school-going age range. For these children, a stable education remains a dream.

In late 2009, militant threats in the northwestern tribal areas of North Waziristan escalated dramatically. After various military offensives against militants in the surrounding regions of South Waziristan and Swat, the Pakistani army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb in January 2014. The military has since been conducting an extensive yet lengthy military operation against the Taliban militants in North Waziristan.

The increasingly dangerous circumstances in the Taliban stronghold has led to a mass exodus of the region’s residents. This military intervention, despite its exigent need, has created significant issues for the displaced people as well as the Pakistani government. The already financially-crippled Pakistani government is thus faced with the immense challenge of providing relief for the refugees.

The refugees from Northern Waziristan add to the almost 1 million refugees who have been displaced during the war on terrorism in the country. The cost of providing basic healthcare and resources to the refugees has been allotted $1 million from the Pakistani government, with substantial bolstering from the United States and China.

Despite the funding, the conditions in the refugee camps are less than satisfactory. As the provision of shelter and food becomes an issue, the educational needs of refugee children have taken a backseat. Temporary schools established for refugee children are in abysmal conditions and are impossibly short-staffed. Many parents are told to enroll their children in far-off government schools. However, many government-run schools are being used as temporary shelters, and not as schools.

According to UNHCR, of the 300,000 children in refugee camps, only 5% are enrolled in schools, whether public, private or NGO-run. Many students old enough to work are choosing menial jobs over continuing their education so as to financially support their families.

Prior to the refugee crisis, the literacy rates in the Northern Waziristan district were only 16% overall and a deplorable 1.67% for girls. The increased presence of fundamentalists in the region who target schools—and, specifically, female education—has adversely affected the state of education in the region.

Unfortunately, for the families returning home this summer, the conditions for education have not improved. Many of the schools have been destroyed through the course of the clashes between the army and the Taliban; others are still occupied by the army as temporary bases. As schools across the country reopen in September, students in North Waziristan continue to face an uncertain, unstable future.

The government has so far failed to come up with a successful and effective plan for the rehabilitation of these students. Recently, the higher education commission announced a stipend of Rs. 2,000 for every student enrolled in post-secondary education; however, no such plan has been revealed for the elementary, middle or high school students.

The director of education for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)—the education authority for North Waziristan—has suggested that UNICEF aid be used to establish schools in tents for IDPs who continue to reside in the camps. Additionally, the director has recommended a second shift for schools in neighboring areas, like Bannu and Lakki Marwat, specifically for IDPs. The feasibility and potential for success of both these measures have been met with criticism and apprehension from many nonprofit agencies, as well as the refugees themselves.

As the government deadline for the complete return of North Waziristan IDPs to their homes—set for January 2016—fast approaches, it is imperative that the educational authorities within the government focus on the rehabilitation of these students. The Pakistani government, with assistance from its aides, needs to make education in the region a priority in its budget. The goal of the provincial government should not be pre-2009, but to bring the region to a literacy rate at least on par with the rest of the country, especially for girls. An effective strategy and delegation of resources to educate the children of North Waziristan are crucial to the long-term stability of the region.

– Atifah Safi

Sources: UNHCR, FATA Disaster Management Authority, Aljazeera, Aljazeera, Dawn, Pakistan Today
Photo: Flickr

Each day, more of the world’s population gains access to electricity. Economic development, urbanization and aid programs have all helped increase global energy access. But 1.3 billion people still have no access to electricity, meaning that 18 percent of the world’s population is living in “energy poverty.” 97% of those living without electricity are located in either Sub-Saharan Africa or developing areas of Asia.

Electricity is vital for maintaining a clean water supply, sanitation systems and effective healthcare. It is also necessary for reliable lighting and heating, mechanical power, transportation and communication. It is crucial to a country’s economic development and its peoples’ well-being.

In Pakistan, only 67% of the population has access to electricity. In rural areas, this percentage dips even lower. However, the Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP) is working to bring electricity to those living in rural Pakistan.

SRSP, a nonprofit founded in 1989, operates in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA. The organization aims to empower communities, support economic and livelihood development, and provide humanitarian aid when necessary. Their overall goals are to reduce poverty levels and improve the quality of life in these regions. They have assisted in many areas, from providing relief after natural disasters to improving drinking water quality to building roads.

SRSP is making great strides in helping those in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa access electricity. They have been primarily working in the remote villages of the Hindu Kush mountains. Life in these villages is difficult — the area is prone to earthquakes and flooding and has been the site of many violent conflicts. However, the very mountains that isolate these villages have provided a source of energy for the people.

SRSP uses micro-hydro schemes powered by the glacier meltwater rivers that flow down the mountains to provide a sustainable source of energy. Micro-hydro schemes are able to provide electricity to whole communities while making very little impact on the environment. Since 2004, SRSP has built 189 micro-hydro schemes, bringing electricity to approximately 365,000 people. Over the next two years, the organization aims to reach 300,000 more people.

Having electricity has dramatically improved the quality of life for these villagers. Businesses can expand, communication is much easier, and students are able to study after dark and attain a better education. SRSP earned the 2015 Ashden International Award for Increasing Energy Access for their work in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

In today’s world, electricity is necessary for any nation to develop, and SRSP’s sustainable practices can help Pakistan to do so without harming the environment. Other regions in need of energy access, such as parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, could benefit from such systems. The model of using a region’s natural resources, from water to sunlight to wind, to provide power could work in other “energy poor” areas of the world. The methods used by SRSP prove that sustainable sources of energy can be hugely beneficial for expanding energy access while preserving a region’s natural ecosystems.

– Jane Harkness

Sources: Ashden, The Express Tribune, The Guardian, International Energy Agency, International Energy Agency 2, Sarhad Rural Support Programme, Sarhad Rural Support Programme 2
Photo: Sarhad Rural Support Programme