KHARTOUM—Heavy rains and floods that have struck Sudan for the past month have brought life to a standstill across large swaths of the country and disrupted education again at schools and universities that were already dealing with serious setbacks from coronavirus shutdowns and political upheaval.
Some students, like Sahar Al-Tayyib, a second-year student at Sinnar University’s Faculty of English Literature, now hold little hope of finishing their degrees. “It seems that completing my university education is impossible,” she said. “I joined the university in 2017, but the successive crises in my country have disrupted my dream.”
This year’s Nile River floods are the worst Sudan has seen in years and have prompted the Security and Defense Council to declare a state of emergency throughout the country for a period of three months and designate Sudan a natural disaster area.
The floods have left 103 dead and at least 50 injured, while affecting more than half a million people in 17 of Sudan’s 18 states, according to a statement from the Sudanese Ministry of Interior.
Unofficial preliminary estimates indicate that losses could range between $3 billion and $4 billion, adding to the burden on a crumbling economy that has been deteriorating for years due to political crises.
Nearly 100 schools and universities have suffered damage, according to reports issued by the Sudanese Civil Defense.
The extent of the damage varies from partial to complete destruction, but in the end it disrupts education in all of the affected areas, especially as some of the remaining schools have been transformed into shelters for people who evacuated their homes.
“We cannot fully assess the extent of the damage yet, but there are some schools, universities, hospitals, and government institutions that have been completely destroyed,” said Mohamed Madani Al-Shabik, under secretary of the Ministry of Labor and Social Development. “We are working on assessing the damage now and providing the necessary assistance.”
“We cannot fully assess the extent of the damage yet, but there are some schools, universities, hospitals, and government institutions that have been completely destroyed.”Mohamed Madani Al-Shabik
Under secretary of the Ministry of Labor and Social Development
The areas with the worst damage to educational facilities are El-Qadarif State, southeast of Khartoum, with 29 damaged institutions; North Kordofan State, with 16; Sinnar State, with 12; and Gezira State, with 10. Damage was also reported in Blue Nile, North Darfur, Northern, Red Sea, River Nile, South Darfur, West Darfur, West Kordofan and White Nile States.
Since late 2018, there have been almost constant interruptions in education in Sudan. The popular protests that broke out in December 2018 and culminated in the toppling of the government of former President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 caused the suspension of the academic year for a period of up to 10 months. (See a related article, “Sudan’s Academic Year Begins—but Only for a Few Universities.”)
The current academic year has also witnessed interruptions as schools and universities closed classrooms due to the coronavirus lockdown measures and attempted to shift to online teaching, but encountered logistical problems that hampered that effort. (See a related article, “Floods, Locusts, and Covid-19: Somali Students and Universities Struggle.”)
The country was largely unprepared for online education, especially in light of disparities in the availability and speed of Internet connections, high poverty levels that prevent many people from owning personal computers, smartphones or other devices for accessing the Internet, and a general lack of digital education skills. (See a related article, “The Shift to Online Education in the Arab World Is Intensifying Inequality.”)
Sahar Al-Tayyib, the Sinnar University student, said her institution had shut down several times during the past three years. Now she has lost hope of resuming her studies after the floods.
“I don’t think we will be able to resume studies even if our university was not affected by the flood.”Mohamed Essam
A second-year accounting student at East Nile University
“There is neither a suitable study atmosphere nor a work horizon,” she said. “I was thinking about getting married and building a family, but the flood also destroyed that,” she added. “The floods destroyed the house I was preparing to move to with my fiancé after marriage. This disaster destroyed all my dreams.”
The Psychological Toll
Mohamed Essam, a second-year accounting student at East Nile University, a private institution in Khartoum Bahri, north of the capital, said the effects of the latest disaster to hit Sudan go beyond material damage.
“We are very tired psychologically. We can hardly escape one dilemma before we get into a bigger one,” he said. “I don’t think we will be able to resume studies even if our university was not affected by the flood.” He pointed out that many of his acquaintances lost their homes and businesses to flood damage.
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Fatima Hamad Mohammed Abusan, a professor of family science and a psychologist at Rafaa Hospital in Gezira State, said it will be important to deal with the psychological toll of the disaster when educational institutions resume.
“Tension, sadness, anxiety and anger are all negative emotions that affect the student’s ability to comprehend lessons, whether in traditional classes or online,” she said.
She also pointed out that online education was no longer available to many, especially those who lost their homes, properties, books, and school supplies, in addition to the damage the flood caused to the infrastructure of the electricity grid and the Internet.
“This disaster is like no other,” she said.
Calls Not to Give Up
Seif El-Din Hassan Al-Awad Abdullah, a professor of media at Omdurman Islamic University, in the city of Omdurman across the river from Khartoum, hopes education can resume quickly.
“There is no doubt that the extent of the damage is great,” he said. “But I hope to resume studies as soon as possible, given its role in helping everyone, students and professors, to resume their normal lives and its importance in preparing generations capable of building the country in the desired way.”
Some activists seek to provide assistance to help and encourage students to complete their studies, despite the damage caused by the natural disaster.
Maysa Yassin Khalifa Ibrahim, founder and general director of Awan Al-Mostaqbal Private Schools, has converted her school into housing for students who lost their homes, so they will be able to apply for high school exit exams that were postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Education continues in areas not affected by the flood and it must continue in the affected areas,” she said.
This is not the first time Ibrahim has experienced floods in Sudan; she previously saw floods in Khartoum between 2004 and 2005.
“I feel exactly what many Sudanese in the affected areas feel,” she said. “I was like them without home, food, or support. “So today I strive with all my capabilities to provide assistance. We are now seeking to determine the needs and then provide help for families so that students can return to study as soon as possible.”