Invest in human capital, protect Pakistan's future

This page in:
Three children from Sindh looking concerned and sitting with elderly woman Three children from Sindh looking concerned and sitting with elderly woman

Three months after unprecedented floods devastated a third of Pakistan, the situation remains dire. About 3.5 million children have had their education disrupted. As in most disasters, the poorest have been hit the hardest. Unless action is taken as part of the recovery and rebuilding efforts, decades of progress and potential human development are at risk.

This is the main finding by a Special Policy Brief written with our colleagues Juan Baron and May Bend – Floods in Pakistan: Human Development at Risk.

Pakistan’s floods have negatively impacted the healthy development of children, with more than 1 million expected not to return to school.

In response to unimaginable losses, the poorest households are relying on coping mechanisms that impact children. Emerging data finds that 5 percent of families report having married off one of their children since the flooding began. Fifteen percent of surveyed families asserted that children are likely to stay home to help with chores and reconstruction. Meanwhile, 28 percent envisioned their child working instead of returning to school, with the rate of potential child labor highest in the province of Balochistan, at 41 percent.

Between 10 and 20 percent of parents said they were unlikely to send their children back to school, meaning at least 1 million more children may join the 20.3 million already out of school in Pakistan. The reasons parents give are twofold: the cost of education is too high (made worse by the floods), and the quality too low. Prior to the recent floods, households bore the brunt of 57 percent of education spending in Pakistan. With 1 in 5 households now reporting losing their livelihoods, the cost of education has become prohibitive for many. “We have to chose between food and education,” says Kareema, a mother in Sindh.

Among those who said it was unlikely their children would attend school, 19 percent cited the poor quality of schools and teaching as the primary reason. As evidenced by recent national and international assessments, a significant proportion of children are not acquiring adequate foundational skills, and a series of disruptions have left many further behind. Seventy-two percent of parents reported their children were not studying during flood-related school closures. While rebuilding disaster resilient schools is a priority, improving the quality of the education is essential to encourage parents to continue schooling. Catch up classes that teach children at the right level and focus more on foundational learning are necessary to limit the lasting effects of this climate disaster.

Increases in out of school children and learning poverty means Pakistan’s human capital potential is likely to further erode.

A child born in Pakistan today is already likely to only achieve 41 percent of his or her human capital potential, pre-floods. According to new simulations by the World Bank, Pakistan’s rate of learning poverty – the percentage of 10-year old children who are unable to read and understand an age-appropriate text – could increase from 75  to 79 percent due to COVID-19 and floods. And despite the well documented intergenerational benefits of girls’ education, it is Pakistan’s girls who are most at risk of not returning, with 33 percent of parents saying that it will be harder for their daughters to return to school due to the deterioration of transport, roads, and other services.

Investing in human capital is the best way to enhance resilience and adapt to climate change (Pangestu 2022).

There is strong global evidence that disasters have a particularly negative impact on the education of our children, with potentially cumulative and long-lasting effects. Evidence also shows that the longer children remain out of school, the less likely they are to return. This calls for immediate attention and investments in human development. To protect human development opportunities, at least four areas must be prioritized. First, steps must be taken to return to safe, inclusive, and disaster-resilient schooling as soon as possible. Secondly, socio-emotional support should be provided for children who have endured the floods and pandemic-related hardships. The recovery of any learning losses due to school closures should also be prioritized. Finally, innovative approaches should be explored to improve access to learning in areas where the reconstruction of schools may be delayed. Without such recovery efforts, the country faces continued post-flood dropouts and learning losses, risking the wellbeing, productivity, and social and economic contribution of the current, and even future, generations.

A boy in Sindh looks at the enormity of what it is now covered with flood waters
A boy in Sindh looks at the enormity of what it is now covered with flood waters. Credit: Insiya Syed. © 2022 International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank


Izza Farrakh

Senior Education Specialist

Elena Roseo

Senior Operations Officer

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000