Ema wades through floodwaters in Bangladesh to continue learning

As flooding closes schools, UNICEF works with Government and partners to ensure children do not lose out on education

By UNICEF
Ema is terrified of the floodwaters that have caused more than 800 schools to close in north-eastern Bangladesh
UNICEF/UN0641537/JCF
24 May 2022

Ema is terrified of the floodwaters that have caused more than 800 schools to close in north-eastern Bangladesh, including her own school: a UNICEF-supported learning centre in Sunamganj.

The worst flooding to hit this area in years has devastated homes, damaged crops and cut off access to villages across five districts. Flooded latrines have contaminated wells and other water supplies, depriving children and their families of access to clean water. Over 1.5 million children are at increased risk of waterborne diseases, drowning and malnutrition.

Tragically, three children below the age of 15 died after being struck by lightning in thunderstorms that set off torrential rain.

Thousands of children like Ema have been affected by school closures in Sylhet and Sunamganj. Over 30 UNICEF-supported learning centres in Sunamganj have been damaged in the floods. After 18 months of school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, children are once again at risk of missing out on learning.

Posters hang on the wall inside a UNICEF-supported learning centre that has been forced to close due to flooding in Sunamganj, north-eastern Bangladesh.
UNICEF/UN0641539/JCF
Posters hang on the wall inside a UNICEF-supported learning centre that has been forced to close due to flooding in Sunamganj, north-eastern Bangladesh.

Makeshift classrooms

Teachers are doing their best to adapt to the disaster by providing lessons in private houses. But it means students have to brave the floodwaters to get through.

Every morning Ema swallows her fear of drowning and wades through knee-high water to get to class. By the time she greets her teacher, her school tunic and trousers are soaked, so she packs an extra set of clothing to change into.

“Our school was flooded. That’s why we have to go to someone’s house to study. But we have to cross the floodwater to get there and are often scared,” Ema says.

UNICEF is working with the Government of Bangladesh and partners to respond to the urgent health, safety, nutrition, clean water and education needs of children and their families.

“The damage to lives, homes and schools is heartbreaking. In this disaster, as in most others, children are the most vulnerable. UNICEF is on the ground to protect children and to meet their urgent needs, supporting the Government and working closely with our local partners,” said Mr. Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Representative to Bangladesh.

A UNICEF-supported learning centre in Sunamganj, north-eastern Bangladesh, is surrounded by floodwaters.
UNICEF/UN0641570/JCF
A UNICEF-supported learning centre in Sunamganj, north-eastern Bangladesh, is surrounded by floodwaters.

UNICEF’s response

UNICEF is supporting the Government with the supply of water and sanitation kits, including soap, water purification tablets, jerry cans, sanitary napkins and buckets, to ensure that children and their families have access to clean water and hygiene items. UNICEF has also prepositioned Emergency Education Kits for 6-10-year-olds, which can immediately support over 10,000 children.

UNICEF also works closely with the Department of Social Services to ensure that social workers stand ready to protect the safety and security of children. Raising awareness about drowning prevention in communities is at the centre of the response.

Other activities include working with partners and local government staff on storing emergency dry food, preparing water for consumption, and safely storing important documents and children’s learning materials.