Universities urged to help avert disastrous flood impacts

Almost one-third of Pakistan is inundated as devastating floods have displaced 33 million people and damaged 1.6 million homes besides causing massive damage to roads, bridges and other infrastructure including hospitals and educational institutions, according to the country’s National Disaster Management Authority.

Universities have undertaken some swift measures such as deferring tuition fees for students in flood-hit areas. But universities have also been called upon to play a bigger role in tackling flood relief and to take part in long-term planning to avert future floods.

While some university research is underway, academics say it lacks coordination and resources to respond to national disaster emergencies.

Pakistan is among the worst-hit countries due to the impacts of climate change and has been affected by massive floods many times in the past despite accounting for less than 1% of contributions towards the world’s total carbon emissions. Scientists have linked rising temperatures as a cause, inducing heavy monsoon rains and melting glaciers in the country.

More than 18,500 schools and colleges have been damaged and 15 universities across three provinces are now just a lake, due to floodwaters which have damaged infrastructure, furniture and equipment. Academic activities at these universities have been suspended.

The government has estimated that the catastrophic floods have caused losses of more than US$10 billion. More than 1,325 people including women and children have died, 12,700 have been injured and 800,000 animals killed.

Tuition fees deferred

The massive damage to agrarian and poor communities during the latest devastating floods has made it difficult for university students to continue their education.

Although universities have undertaken some quick measures such as deferring tuition fees for students in the flood-stricken areas of the country, the institutions are looking to government for financial support as Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has tasked the federal education ministry with devising a special scholarship programme for students in flooded regions.

Mukhtar Ahmed, chair of Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission (HEC), told University World News: “The collection of dues from students of flood-affected areas has immediately been halted and has been deferred for some period. A comprehensive plan is being devised for waiving tuition and hostel fees, besides offering scholarships to graduate and undergraduate students of those areas.”

Ahmed explained the fee waiver would be either full or partial depending on the level of damage and socio-economic conditions in flood-stricken areas. “It will be implemented on allocation of resources by the federal government as universities are already facing financial crisis,” he said.

He acknowledged that “universities themselves would need financial support to cover losses incurred due to damage to buildings, equipment and furniture and other infrastructure of the universities in areas where floodwaters have hit the university campuses”.

“The burden on the national exchequer due to the heavy blow to the economy because of floods would also bring universities under financial pressure and our plans and efforts to contribute for long-term solutions might be affected,” Ahmed added.

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