UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 18 (Xinhua) -- Seven out of 10 primary school students in the Central African Republic (CAR) have not returned to school since internal conflict started in December 2012, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and partners said Friday.
About 65 percent of the schools surveyed were looted, occupied or damaged by bullets or shells, the agency said in a news release citing a recent survey, which was carried out in August in 11 of the country's 17 prefectures.
"A school is meant to be a safe space for teaching and learning, but in some areas there is nothing left," said Souleymane Diabate, the UNICEF representative in the CAR. "Without teachers, desks, textbooks -- how can a child learn?"
Four out of five people said that fear of violence is the main reason students are reluctant to return to school, according to the survey. Almost half of the schools remain closed and students have lost an average of six months of schooling.
"Both the access and quality of primary education in the Central African Republic have severely deteriorated since the beginning of the crisis," said Diabate. "And if we do not act now, more children will lose the entire school year and are at risk of dropping out."
UNICEF called on the CAR authorities to take concrete measures to support the permanent and safe return of all teachers and students to school.
Plagued by decades of instability and fighting, the CAR witnessed a resumption of violence last December when the Seleka rebel coalition launched a series of attacks. A peace agreement was reached in January, but the rebels again seized the capital, Bangui, in March, forcing then CAR President Francois Bozize to flee.
A transitional government was established to restore law and order and pave the way for democratic elections. However, armed clashes in the northeast have increased since the beginning of August, and the country is facing a dire humanitarian situation that affects the entire population of some 4.6 million.
UNICEF said almost 25,000 children affected by the conflict are now in "catch-up classes" to prepare for this year's final exams, with an additional 40,000 children scheduled to re-start learning in the upcoming weeks.
The UN agency plans to support an additional 105,000 children to get back to their classrooms by the end of the year.
UNICEF issued an appeal calling for an emergency financing of 11.5 million U.S. dollars before the crisis broke out, but the amount has since increased to 32 million dollars. The agency has so far only received one third of the funding it requested, and the remaining 21 million dollars is urgently needed to provide education and emergency assistance to conflict-affected children and women in the CAR.
Meanwhile, a team consisting of officials from UNICEF, several other UN humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations are continuing their visit to the CAR to take stock of the humanitarian crisis and response in the country.
The crisis that began December has displaced more than 394,000 people within the country and sent another 64,000 people to neighboring countries in search of shelter. Persistent insecurity, the absence of the rule of law and attacks against humanitarian personnel and assets continue to prevent life-saving assistance from reaching people in need.