Wealth gaps affecting schoolchildren in Iraq

Iraqi schoolchildren walk through the arcades of the old city in Mosul. (AFP)
Updated 20 November 2018
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Wealth gaps affecting schoolchildren in Iraq

  • One-third of schools across the country operate multiple shifts in an effort to enroll as many kids as possible, meaning students may get just a few hours of class per day

BAGHDAD: Economic inequality is massively affecting whether students in war-ravaged Iraq finish school, the UN children’s agency warned Monday, urging the fledgling government in Baghdad to spend more on education.
An economic downturn, years of fighting and little government support has left Iraq’s school system lacking, UNICEF found in a new study of more than 20,000 families. Socio-economic status creates a huge gap in who graduates from secondary school — 73 percent for the wealthiest students compared to just 23 percent of the poorest students.
One-third of schools across the country operate multiple shifts in an effort to enroll as many kids as possible, meaning students may get just a few hours of class per day. To improve access to education, Iraq needs 7,500 new schools, UNICEF said.
“It’s to do with the conflict, the economic collapse, and lack of investment over the past 20 years. When the quality falls, then children themselves march out of the classroom,” UNICEF country director Peter Hawkins told AFP.
“Children are the future of this country, and a growing gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ sows discord and is detrimental for children and for Iraq,” he added.
The wide-ranging study was the first in seven years in Iraq. The country’s infrastructure, including its schools, has been hit hard by conflict, from the US-led invasion in 2003 to years of sectarian violence and bombings.
In 2014, Daesh overran a third of the country, implementing its own twisted curriculum in schools before being ousted from its urban strongholds last year.
And in recent months, a water crisis in the country’s south kept many children at home in fear of contracting diseases.
To get more children in school, the government must boost its spending on education, one of the lowest rates in the region at just 5.7 percent of total expenditure, UNICEF said.
“Ministers: Please use this to target investment to those children in greater need. Those children are your future,” Hawkins urged government members.
Parliamentary divisions mean Iraq has not appointed anyone to head the ministries of education or higher education.
According to Iraq’s Human Rights Commission, more than 1,050 schools across the country have been damaged to varying degrees by the recent violent years.
Sixty percent of the country’s 39 million people are under the age of 24.


Calm in Hodeidah as observers move in to monitor cease-fire

Sporadic clashes continued until about 3 a.m. on Tuesday, but residents said there was calm after that. (AFP)
Updated 19 December 2018
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Calm in Hodeidah as observers move in to monitor cease-fire

  • “Both parties said publicly they are abiding by the cease-fire,” a UN official said
  • The truce in Hodeidah officially began at midnight on Monday

JEDDAH: Truce monitoring observers will be deployed in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah on Wednesday as the first 24 hours of a UN-brokered cease-fire passed without incident.

The Redeployment Coordination Committee comprises members of the Yemeni government supported by the Saudi-led coalition, and Houthi militias backed by Iran, and is overseen by the UN. 

The head of the committee will report to the UN Security Council every week.

Deployment of the observers is the latest stage in a peace deal reached after talks last week in Sweden. Both sides in the conflict agreed to a cease-fire in Hodeidah and the withdrawal of their forces within 21 days.

“Both parties said publicly they are abiding by the cease-fire,” a UN official said on Tuesday.

Local authorities and police will run the city and its three port facilities under UN supervision, and the two sides are barred from bringing in reinforcements.

UN envoy Martin Griffith said the committee was expected to start its work swiftly “to translate the momentum built up in Sweden into achievements on the ground.”

The truce in Hodeidah officially began at midnight on Monday. Sporadic clashes continued until about 3 a.m. on Tuesday, but residents said there was calm after that. 

“We are hopeful that things will go back to the way they were and that there will be no aggression, no airstrikes and lasting security,” said one, Amani Mohammed.

Another resident, Mohammed Al-Saikel, said he was optimistic the cease-fire would pave the way for a broader truce. “We are hopeful about this cease-fire in Hodeidah and one for Yemen in general,” he said. “We will reach out in peace to whoever does the same.”

The UN Security Council is considering a draft resolution that asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to submit proposals by the end of the month on how to monitor the cease-fire.

The resolution, submitted by the UK, “calls on all parties to the conflict to take further steps to facilitate the unhindered flow of commercial and humanitarian supplies including food, fuel, medicine and other essential imports and humanitarian personnel into and across the country.”