(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Over 4,000 primary schools closed by floods

10-year Yasmin and her eight-year-old brother Rabbi, continue to attend classes at the Holan government primary school, north of Dhaka, despite monsoon floods.
David Swanson/IRIN

For 10-year-old Yasmin and her eight-year-old brother Rabbi, nothing will keep them from their studies - not even this year’s worse than average monsoon rains.

Each day they make the perilous 20-minute journey through flooded fields to their newly relocated school in Holan, a bustling community of 2,000 inhabitants northeast of Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital.

“I’ve never missed a day,” Yasmin claimed, navigating her way along an irrigation pipe over a now flooded field, tightly gripping her younger brother’s hand. “Not even with the water.”

But many of her classmates at the Holan government primary school are not so lucky.

This year has seen many homes in the area badly affected; prompting residents to remain with family and friends as flood waters slowly recede.

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“There has been a 20 percent drop in attendance,” Nasiruddin, one of four teachers at the school - which has a normal enrolment of some 250 students - said.

While the stagnant waters that once covered the school floor - providing fertile ground for a host of water-borne diseases, including diarrhoea - have since receded, access to the simple two-room school remains risky.

With the building surrounded on both sides by two separate ponds - swelled by weeks of rain - school administrators made a prudent decision to relocate classes to a temporary, semi-open shelter nearby.

Paths leading to the original school are still partly under water, making it particularly difficult for the youngsters to distinguish where the paths finish and the now deeper than normal ponds begin.

“We don’t want to run the risk of any of the children drowning,” Nasiruddin said; reportedly not an uncommon event in the mega floods that badly affected the river-delta nation in 1998 and 2004.

Over 4,600 primary schools affected

According to the government’s latest estimates, over 10 million people were affected and 447 were killed as of 20 August, after weeks of heavy monsoon rain flooded over 30 percent of the country and left hundreds of thousands homeless.


Photo: David Swanson/IRIN

"There has been a 20 percent drop in attendance. We don’t want to run the risk of any of the children drowning."

Nasiruddin, a teacher at Holan government primary school


Of the country’s 64 districts, 39 were affected; 15 of them badly. Over 60,000 homes were badly affected.

And while Bangladesh, a flood-prone nation of over 150 million inhabitants, emerges from some of the worst flooding in recent years, its impact on the country’s primary school sector has yet to be fully assessed.

Many of the schools affected were close to the country’s three main rivers flowing southward to the Bay of Bengal - the Ganges, the Jamuna and the Meghna - which burst their banks only weeks earlier, badly affecting local communities, as well as livelihoods.

“This happens every year,” Syeedul Hoque Milky, an education programme communication specialist with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Dhaka said. “Sometimes it’s on a large scale. Sometimes it’s on a low scale.”

In the initial aftermath of the floods, an estimated 1.5 million children - or around 10 percent of the country’s 80,000 primary schools had been affected.

“Last year the initial estimates were that less than 5 percent of all primary schools were affected. This year it was more than 10 percent,” Milky elaborated.

But with flood waters now receding, that number has since been reduced, leaving behind a number of challenges.

Of the 4,603 primary schools still affected on 19 August, 4,444 remain closed, according to the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, while an additional 292 were still being used as flood shelters.

A total of 44 schools were totally washed away, the ministry reported.

Key challenges

“I think 1998 and 2004 were much worse. You can’t compare this year with the scale of the flooding in previous years,” Louis-George Arsenault, UNICEF country representative in Dhaka, told IRIN.

At the same time, however, he noted that even if the flooded areas were less than in some previous years, preliminary reports showed that damage to infrastructure seemed very widespread.”


Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
There are some 80,000 primary education schools in the country


In addition to its ongoing emergency response efforts, UNICEF is particularly interested in looking at the medium and long term effects of the flood, including getting children back into the classroom as quickly as possible.

“That’s what we are discussing right now. We are preparing plans this week on areas of rehabilitation and reconstruction,” he explained.

“What’s critical for us is to give school-aged children a sense of normalcy back as quickly as possible. That’s our main focus at the moment,” Arsenault said, noting a number of key areas in which the agency would be working.

“Where we can be very useful - and what we have done already - is support educational kits to those children most affected; where the schools will likely be closed down for longer, extended periods of time.”

As for those schools requiring major refurbishment, alternative classroom options should be looked into - including makeshift ones - so that education could continue over the next few months, he added.

“There need to be alternatives until construction can take place so that the children don’t lose a year,” the senior UNICEF official explained, particularly in areas where buildings will need to be reconstructed.

“In those areas which are located in lower lying areas, reconstruction should be different. We should reconstruct, but much higher. That way when the floods come, the schools are less affected,” he explained.

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