Libya’s school year is set to begin next week, according to the Ministry of Education. But in the southern city of Sirte, that seems unlikely as 65 schools have been damaged by wars – during the 2011 revolution as well as the 2016 war against ISIS. At least 25 schools have to be rebuilt from the ground up.

Aya Mahmud, a high school student, says she was forced to join a new school after her former one was totally destroyed. “We sometimes sat on the floor due to crowdedness. In winter, the classroom becomes soaked with water. We hope the situation with schools will be better this year,” she said.

Another student, Abeer, in the second grade at Al-Hidaya School which was also destroyed, said of her new school: “We have more than 40 students in a classroom, but we have no choice but to continue.”

Strapped for cash

Muftah Abdulkafi, Director of Education in Sirte, said that his authority was in “a race against time,” to get 18,982 students in the primary and intermediate stages back to school.

A plan to conduct quick renovations in 39 of 102 schools was approved by the Ministry of Education and while renovations have begun, he said, United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) pledge to contribute and renovate 12 schools in the first batch, has “not yet been honored.”

The UNDP allocated USD 7.64 million in assistance for Sirte, which included maintaining a number of facilities including 14 schools,” says a UNDP’s report on reconstructing the Libyan cities affected by war.

In March 2017, the Board of Directors of the Stabilization Facility for Libya headed by the Government of National Accord (GNA) during a meeting with the UNDP, agreed on renovating eight schools.

Abdul Bari Al-Zenni, a consultant at the Ministry of Planning, says that the UNDP’s proposal was discussed at a meeting held in July 2017 in Tripoli, about supporting reconstruction of the damaged cities. An amount of 10 million dinars, four million for Kakla (west of Tripoli) and the remaining for Sirte.

The UNDP, Al-Zenni says, stipulated that it supervises the project implementation and that the Libyan government contributes the same amount. But then there was the problem of which entity should take the amount” he says. “We put initial financial estimates but these figures might not be sufficient for maintenance. The issue was referred to the Presidential Council as the proposal was made when there were minor damages but the situation aggravated,” he adds.

Nothing was implemented

The Jeel Al-Jadid Primary School in Sirte is one of the schools covered by the maintenance project. Ahmed Ghazal, the school’s principal, stresses that a project team visited the school more than three months ago and examined the school situation but until now nothing has happened.

However, his school was covered by the quick maintenance contracts supervised by the Ministry of Education in the GNA, which allocated 60,000 Libyan dinars (USD 43,000) for each school. He expects that his school will receive 500 students this year.

Abu Bakr Al-Jallab, Head of the Educational Facilities Department in Sirte, concurs with Al-Zenni. He says full maintenance has not started yet as it requires allocating large amounts by the state. “The GNA provided opportunities for minor maintenance so that schools can receive students in relatively good conditions. The government has put estimated costs based on the damages and the size of each school.”

Inaccurate estimates

Islam Jibreel, Principal of Al-Ettihad Secondary School for girls in Sirte, says the committee assigned by the UNDP visited the school a few months ago and collected the needed data for the project and came back after three weeks with contractors from Tripoli, Misrata and Sirte. They reexamined the school and found out that the total estimated cost of the school maintenance, which is 100,000 dinars (USD 73,000), is not enough and that the cracks in the building need major repairs.

Since then, says Jibreel, no one came back to visit the school. “The school is old. It dates back to 1968 and it was on the front lines in the Kambo district, an ISIS stronghold. The damages are 40% as the lab was burned and the classrooms’ roofs and the schools’ fences collapsed. Around 400 students will attend the school without conducting any maintenance.”

Dr. Gaddafi Bati, UNDP coordinator in Sirte, says the program allocated a specified amount to be used for conducting quick maintenance for the largest number of affected schools. However, this amount cannot cover schools with major damage.

“The project was put out to tender and the work started in September 2017. The Fath School was the first to be submitted to a contractor. Other schools will follow suit as soon as the administrative procedures including procurement are finished. The time frame is not identified,” he adds.