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 Thursday 04 October 2007
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WEST AFRICA: Flood damage pushes back school term for millions

Photo: Burkina Faso Red Cross
Floods have wiped out homes, roads and bridges throughout West Africa. In many schools, classrooms still house people displaced by flooding
DAKAR, 24 September 2007 (IRIN) - Some three million primary and secondary school students in West Africa will begin school several weeks late this year, while others hold their first days of classes in warehouses, because of unprecedented flooding in the region.

[Read this story in French]

After torrential rains, in many areas classrooms are still filled with displaced families and roads and bridges are washed out, prompting the governments of Togo and Mali to postpone the start of school.

In Togo, where the northeast has been hit hard by floods, the government has postponed the date for the entire country, “to avoid an education schedule proceeding on two tracks”, the minister of primary and secondary education said on state TV. Some 1.8 million students across the country will begin school on 17 October, one month later than the original start date.

Togolese officials are concerned that the flooding - in the northern Savanes region - could also have a longer-term impact on children’s education. Apart from the degradation of school buildings, Minister of Social Affairs and Promotion of Women Memounatou Ibrahima said in a 13 September letter to President Faure Gnassingbe, “Families have lost everything and their economic vulnerability could justify not putting their children in school.”

In Mali, school for an estimated 2 million students will begin on 2 October instead of 17 September. In other countries affected by flooding, the school year will begin as planned but with some disruptions as communities clean up after flood damage.

Mixed reactions

The decisions have sparked mixed reactions. Some say the delay disrupts their planning; others are relieved to have the extra time, in part because the original start date would have coincided with the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan - generally a period of extra expenses.

“I had asked for two weeks’ vacation to prepare for the start of the school year and follow my daughter’s first days of classes,” Dossou Francine, a furniture store employee in the Togolese capital, Lome, told IRIN. “With the postponement it will be difficult for me now to attend to this properly.”

Afanou Paul, also in Lome, said it was time for children to get back to school. “They do nothing but eat, shout and watch TV. When the vacation lasts too long, the children have difficulty getting back into their studies again.”

In Mali some people are relieved that the school year is being put back. “I’m glad for this delay,” Adama Diarra, father of five school-aged children, told IRIN. “To tell the truth, I was not ready… The date of 17 September was at the beginning of Ramadan, a month of many expenses - sugar, rice and all the other obligations. Then there’s the burden of uniforms, supplies and transport. You can see why I’m happy with this… From now until 2 October I can save up to better prepare for the start of school.”

One education official in Mali, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the government was not prepared in any case to start the school year on time. “The reality today is that many classrooms are not ready; supplies of books, chalk and other supplies are not there.” He said there are also delays in recruitment and orientation of teachers.

Mauritania, Niger, Benin

The government has maintained the 1 October start date in Mauritania, where more than 30,000 people have been affected by floods. But in Titane, a flooded southeastern city, some communities will hold classes in warehouses while classrooms are being rehabilitated, Ali Fall, secretary-general of national education, told IRIN.

In Niger, where the government says floods have affected some 16,700 people, school is scheduled to begin on 1 October as planned but that could change during a 25-26 September meeting of the national education council, said Maiga Younoussa, secretary-general of secondary and higher education.

In Benin, where some areas also saw flooding, the school year has been put back to 4 October from 17 September but for administrative reasons not due to floods, an Education Ministry official told IRIN.

The UN estimates that over 550,000 people in 12 West African countries have been affected by floods.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Education, (IRIN) Natural Disasters


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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