Dakar: The conflict in northern Mali has disrupted the education of nearly three quarters of a million children, the United Nations Children’s Fund said on Sunday.
“The crisis in Mali has disrupted the education of some 700,000 Malian children, leaving 200,000 still with no access to school both in the north and south of the country, according to Unicef and educational authorities in Mali,” Unicef said in a statement.
“Since January 2012, 115 schools in the North were closed, destroyed, looted,” the statement said, adding that “unexploded bombs” had been found in some establishments.
The situation has worsened since the conflict intensified this January with France’s intervention in Mali, Unicef said.
“Many teachers have failed to return to the north and already overcrowded schools in the south cannot cope with the influx of displaced students from the north.”
“When a teacher is afraid to teach and when a student is afraid to go to school, the whole education is at risk,” said Francoise Ackermans, Unicef Representative in Mali.
According to Malian Education Minister Bocar Mousa Diarra, only one in three schools in the north is functioning.
“In Kidal, all schools are closed while in Timbuktu five per cent have reopened. In Gao, only 28 per cent of teachers have resumed work,” he said.
“To give new hope to those affected by the crisis, hundreds of schools need to be built or rehabilitated, and equipped with school canteens,” he said.
The French-led offensive in Mali is working to drive out armed Islamist groups who took control of towns including Gao and Timbuktu last year in the chaotic aftermath of a coup d’etat.
Meanwhile rebels in the north have the “destructive power” of an army, a top Malian colonel said, while showcasing weapons seized in Gao since French-led forces retook the city last month.
“What we have here, it’s indicative of an army, or groups that have the capacity of an army,” said Gao commander Laurent Mariko, showing the stockpile of weapons to reporters.
The stockpile on display on Sunday included US-made M-16 assault rifles, Czech-made sniper rifles, Russian-made rockets and Malian army uniforms.