Currently just 36% of girls and 45% of boys in Somalia are enrolled at primary school, one of the lowest rates of school attendance in the world. This means that around 4.4 million Somali children (out of a total population of 9.2 million people) are not in education. Taking advantage of the country’s improved security situation, the Somali government is determined to address this situation.
In June, the prime minister, Abdi Farah Shirdon vowed that Somalia would give education “the same priority as defence and security”. Following up on this promise, the government will this week launch an ambitious campaign to enrol a further one million children in school.
In a statement on the government’s plan, a spokesperson for the UN’s child agency, UNICEF, (as reported by Reuters) said “there has never been a more opportune time during the last two decades than now, to act on behalf of Somali children”. Referring to a “rare window of opportunity”, UNICEF has promised 117 million dollars to fund the reconstruction of schools, teacher training and salaries, and to provide essential supplies such as textbooks. The organisation will also give support to the education ministries of Somalia and the semi-autonomous northern regions of Somaliland and Puntland. A spokesperson for UNICEF confirmed that creating a stable education system was seen as key to ending “the cycle of poverty and instability” in the country.
Food & health struggles continue
Despite the good news on education, the government faces an uphill battle in other sectors, such as agriculture and health. Recently, the fragile health system was dealt a severe blow by the announcement from the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) that it was closing all its programmes in Somalia, just as a severe outbreak of polio [Severe outbreak of polio threatens Somalia’s children] has hit the country.
The situation with agriculture is slightly more positive. According to information from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the country has experienced average to above average rains this year. This has improved yields and since food prices have remained low, and humanitarian assistance has reached more people, the FAO has confirmed that the number of people needing food aid this year is at its lowest since 2011. However, experts warn that many Somalis are still extremely food insecure and more than 200,000 children under the age of five remain acutely malnourished. Overall, they warn that any recovery should therefore be seen as “fragile”.