A quarter of the school-age children in Lebanon’s capital risk missing out on school after last month’s deadly port explosion, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) aid group has warned.
“With 163 schools damaged by the Beirut explosion, at least one in four children in the city are now at risk of missing out on their education,” it said in a statement on Monday, referring to the August 4 blast.
The IRC said its estimations were based on the impact of the blast alone and did not take into account the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has already disrupted school and university education globally.
“Over 85,000 pupils were registered at the schools damaged by the blasts and it will take up to a year for the most severely damaged buildings to be repaired,” it added.
The explosion of a massive stockpile of ammonium nitrate at Beirut port killed some 200 people, wounded thousands more and ravaged buildings in surrounding residential neighbourhoods, leaving at least 300,000 people homeless.
The destruction of public and private schools due to the blast has so far impacted more than 70,000 Lebanese students and 7,600 teachers, according to the United Nations children’s fund.
The explosion was a devastating blow to a country already facing its worst economic crisis in decades and a series of lockdowns aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19.
The IRC said the slow pace of rebuilding, parents’ concerns over the cost and safety of transport to alternative schools, and children being sent to work to help their struggling families could be keeping the pupils out of class.
“We expect that many families with daughters will not allow them to attend school due to fears for their safety on public transport,” said the group’s acting Lebanon director, Mohammad Nasser.
“Overall, we are expecting to see far fewer children enrolled in schools and a high drop-out rate as the year progresses,” Nasser said, highlighting the urgent need for more funding for the education sector.
Other reasons behind the feared high drop-out rate are the psychological and emotional trauma that has affected hundreds of children following the deadly port explosion.
IRC teams have reported how acutely children’s fears affected them and the need for social and psychological support in the aftermath of the blast.
Nasser noted that while some children lost those closest to them, others have been left with life-changing injuries.
Schools in Lebanon have not yet re-opened over a spike in coronavirus cases, which have risen to more than 35,000 infections, including at least 340 deaths since February.