By Edward Bally
KPOTO, Benin, 4 November 2010 – As floodwaters slowly recede in Benin, the magnitude of the tragedy is being revealed. The recent floods here and elsewhere in West Africa have killed almost 400 people and affected 1.5 million. Children are the hardest hit.
|VIDEO: 24 October 2010 - UNICEF's Edward Bally reports on the difficulties faced by thousands of students in flood-ravaged Benin. Watch in RealPlayer|
In Benin, 278 schools have been flooded and 600 classrooms damaged in the disaster. Many other schools are being used as temporary shelters by families who were displaced from their homes.
Last month, the government had to postpone the first day of the new school year school due to the floods. Today, even though many schools have reopened, 115 000 children are still unable to attend classes.
Here in Kpoto, a small village north of Cotonou, the population had to flee raging floodwaters in the middle of the night. Some 1,400 villagers took shelter in the nearest church and school.
|© UNICEF Benin/2010/Asselin|
|Beninese Children attend class at a makeshift school in Kpoto, a village in Zagnanado Commune. The school’s roof sustained damage in the floods that destroyed most of the village.|
“I ran out of my house and yelled to take everyone out of their houses. We had to leave all our belongings in the house and take our children to safety in the school nearby,” recalls Jude Narcisse Edegan, the village chief.
Anice Dagnihound, 14, was among those who fled. She took shelter in one of the classrooms in her school. Anice now shares this space with her family and 10 other people.
“Since the flood, our classrooms have all been occupied. We cannot study comfortably here,” she says, pointing to the damaged roof of the classroom turned dormitory.
Lack of infrastructure
Given the circumstances, even those children who manage to get back to the classroom have a difficult time concentrating.
|© UNICEF Benin/2010/Asselin|
|A woman, accompanied by her child, carries a jerry can to collect water in flood-ravaged Kpoto village, located in Zagnanado Commune, Benin.|
“After it has rained all night, it’s very hard to come and tell the children, ‘OK, let’s study,’” says Franck Tossoukpevi, an elementary school teacher who has just started giving classes. “Their mind is somewhere else. They worry about their house, they worry about how they’re going to eat and they can’t study the way they should.”
The lack of infrastructure makes it harder for the students to start afresh. “During the day, we don’t have the schoolbooks or pens,” says Anice, “so we just sit in class and talk with the teacher. But we cannot write anything down.”
Meeting students’ needs
UNICEF has prepared thousands of school kits to support affected children during the back-to-school period.
|© UNICEF BENIN /2010/Asselin|
|A meal is prepared at a makeshift camp in Kpoto village, Zagnanado Commune, Benin. Flooding displaced hundreds of village residents.|
“Children had to flee from their house and left everything behind – their bags, their uniforms. They have no more chalk and haven’t got anything to write with,” says UNICEF Benin education expert Nadine Oke. “We have to bring them the adequate gear so that they can start school as soon as possible.”
Keeping the urgent needs of these children in mind, UNICEF has appealed for $8.7 million in emergency humanitarian funding – the first step in a long road to recovery for Benin.
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