Floods wash away five schools, cut off 24 in western Uganda

"“Before the floods, our classrooms were good. We had benches and many things, but all these were taken"

By Catherine Ntabadde
floods, education, COVID-19, coronavirus, girls education, emergency supplies
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Abdul
01 July 2020

As you approach Kisabu Primary School in Kasese, western Uganda, one would think a mini earthquake took place. 

Huge stones that were propelled down the mountains, sand and debris of trees are visible from a distance. It is evident that when Thaku River, a tributary of River Nyamwamba burst its banks on 21 May, it washed away everything at the school, leaving only two structures standing.

Three classroom blocks, a playground that housed the netball and volley ball pitches, furniture, latrines, kitchen, bathrooms for girls, 500 seedlings of Eucalyptus trees, as well as other items provided by UNICEF are all gone. The items from UNICEF included a 10,000 litre tank, handwashing facilities and ECD recreational kits -all ‘swallowed’ by the floods, according to Joseph Muhindo, the school’s headteacher.

Even the two remaining buildings were all flooded, floors and doors ripped off and the blackboards have since turned brown. The two buildings were only saved by the fact that they were constructed on a slightly raised ground.

“The water was too much. Geologists and district authorities have advised that this place is no longer suitable for school learning. We have identified another location that is on higher ground, but don’t have money to purchase the land,”

Muhindo says.

The 380 learners at the school will have no sheltered place to sit, stand or have meals. 

On March 20, President Yoweri Museveni ordered the closure of all learning institutions in Uganda as one of the measures to control the spread of COVID-19 in the country. Muhindo is grateful to UNICEF for providing two tents, each 72 square meters, which the school will utilize as temporary classrooms for Primary Seven candidates should schools re-open.

The heavy floods did not wash away only Kisabu Primary School. Four other government schools; Bikone, Karusandara, Bulembia and Katiri, need to be reconstructed or relocated, while accessibility to 24 additional schools (primary and secondary) is very difficult. Six bridges that lead to these schools were destroyed. Enrollment of the schools affected is 16,803.
 
“We had not fully recovered from the floods in 2019. Most of our education institutions are near the five big rivers in the district and are never spared whenever these rivers burst their banks,” explains George Mainja, the Kasese District Education Officer.

Mainja and a team of school inspectors have visited the affected schools to undertake assessments. He notes that the floods have not only affected the learners but also their parents.

“Most of the parents are farmers who cultivate in the valleys and their crops were washed away. Many learners have lost their school materials to the floods, school notes cannot be traced, and some families have since moved to settlements. If schools are to re-open now, we will not have any alternative meeting places."

he explains.

The district education authorities have recommended relocation of the affected schools to new sites. “We cannot even construct new buildings in the same locations because they will also be washed away should we experience another wave of floods,” Mainja highlights.

floods, education, COVID-19, coronavirus, girls education, emergency supplies
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Abdul

Maureen, a 12-year-old who is a Primary Six pupil of Kisabu Primary School is sad that her classroom is no more. “Before the floods, our classrooms were good. We had benches and many things, but all these were taken by the floods.”

Maureen who stays with her father a few meters from the school narrates that the neighborhood woke up to “a shock.”  

“In place of the school we found a very big river. Some of our books at school are gone. The water destroyed my classroom and another building. Most of the things we use at school are gone. Our firewood, benches, teachers’ chairs, our beautiful playground – all gone,”

Maureen laments.
floods, education, COVID-19, coronavirus, girls education, emergency supplies
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Abdul

She is determined to complete her studies and become a nurse so that she can treat sick people. Maureen is currently studying from home using the self-study learning materials distributed by the Ministry of Education and Sports and National Curriculum Development Centre. The Local Council Chairman of her village delivered the first batch of learning materials to Maureen's and other homes.

floods, education, COVID-19, coronavirus, girls education, emergency supplies
UNICEF Uganda/2020/Abdul

The second batch of materials targeting 2.5 million children including refugees, was printed with UNICEF support and dispatched to 48 districts with low education indicators. In Kasese, at the time of this visit (30 May), three district personnel were seen sorting the materials and allocating them to respective sub counties (lower local governments).

“We have already organized transport to take this new set of learning materials to various sub counties. The leadership in the district at all levels is very supportive and together with our head teachers, they will help us distribute materials to all learners,” Mainja explained.

UNICEF Uganda/2020