Merti town
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Floods leave 500 pupils out of Isiolo schools

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Signage showing the direction to Merti town in Isiolo County.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

Originating from the Aberdare ranges, the Ewaso Nyiro River snakes through semi-arid counties of Laikipia, Samburu, Isiolo, Wajir and Marsabit, draining into Lorian swamp.

For communities in these counties, the river is their lifeline, with settlements and wild animal sanctuaries concentrated along the over 700-kilometre course.

However, when in its old stage in Merti sub-county in Isiolo, Ewaso Nyiro becomes destructive as it meanders, changing course and in some sections breaking banks after heavy rains upstream.

Merti town and the settlement, including learning institutions, are ensconced between a plateau and the river.

As floods ravaged the country in May, the education sector suffered a blow, with the Education ministry revealing that nearly 500,000 learners, who were displaced from institutions across the country, have yet to resume lessons, a month after the second term started.

In Merti town, seven schools out of eight were submerged by floods, displacing at least 1,100 pupils at Merti Girls Muslim Primary School, Hamza Primary, Macci Primary, Macci Secondary, Khalifa Primary, Gamachu Primary and Mlanda Nur Primary.

Although learning in the other institutions has resumed, at least 570 pupils in two schools – Hamza Primary and Merti Girls Muslim Primary – face a bleak future after it emerged that they will be relocated.

This is after the Ewaso Nyiro River changed course, with fears that the areas will be flood-prone in the future.

Hamsa Primary School head teacher James Matunga said they discovered that things were not well when in November last year, the same schools were also affected by floods.

“There never used to be floods, but at Hamsa, toilets were damaged in November. Then in May, we were shocked when our school was flooded for the first time in its over 15-year history,” Mr Matunga said.

Merti Deputy County Commissioner Michael Kioni confirmed that the two schools would be relocated.

“Infrastructure in these schools was totally destroyed. Some mud-walled classrooms are being rebuilt, while the toilets sank. We have mobilised parents who are helping with reconstruction,” Mr Kioni said.

“Even with reconstruction and the pupils resuming classes, that will be a temporary measure, as the river has changed its course and floods are likely to become a common feature. We will have to look for alternative land where the schools will be relocated.”

Mr Matunga recounted how on May 6, he received news that their school was under water.

“I called my colleagues for backup and rushed there. At the entrance, we were met with a huge deluge that had nearly swallowed the gate. We could not access the institution and we watched as floods wreaked havoc,” he said last week.

The aftermath is clearly evident – damaged books strewn all over, abandoned children’s lunch boxes and shoes in the compound and classrooms filled with dry silt.

While several computers were also damaged, the floods displaced the school’s 330 pupils, according to Mr Matunga.

In neighbouring Merti Girls Muslim Primary School, 240 pupils suffered the same fate, as did 2,000 others in five other schools in the sub-county.

And although some schools have since reopened, 570 learners at Merti Girls Muslim and Hamsa were displaced and are being hosted at Merti Girls’ Boarding and Al Zakat Orphanage respectively.

Merti learners being hosted in two institutions are going through difficult times as they try to cope with the situation.

Their learning materials and teaching aids were destroyed and they had to start from scratch, Mr Matunga said.

Hamsa Primary manager Mohamed Jarso said the floods destroyed property worth over Sh15 million, adding that relocation will take more than a year.

“This is an old school, which started over 15 years ago and when we relocate, we will need to rebuild all the classrooms. We call upon well-wishers to come to our aid and help us provide proper facilities for the children,” Mr Jarso said.

In the meantime, the management of Hamsa has been forced to make do with facilities at the orphanage, where the pupils are being hosted.

This includes a dormitory that has been partitioned with curtains to accommodate four classrooms.

“This is where four classes, Play group, PP1, PP2 and Grade 1 pupils are studying and it is difficult to coordinate the lessons in this situation. We also don’t have water, which is essential for our Muslim children who need it before they go for prayers,” Mr Matunga said, adding that teachers are also crowded in a small iron-sheet walled room.

Mr Boru Kuno, the head teacher of Merti Girls Muslim Primary, said the 240 pupils who are hosted at Merti Girls’ Boarding are crowded in a hall and he was using a section of a dormitory for office work.

“My school was totally submerged and three semi-permanent classrooms and all toilets, textbooks and other records were damaged. Parents are working hard to repair infrastructure and it will take us not less than three weeks to reconstruct them,” Mr Kuno said.

He said it would cost at least Sh10 million to repair the classrooms and called on intervention from the county and national government to enable them to restore the infrastructure.

While children are forced to walk over five kilometres, some parents whose homes were destroyed by floods say they have no money to buy essential items.

Ms Lana Kijiba, whose home was damaged and is being hosted by relatives, said she spends a lot of money as she has to hire a motorbike to take her child to school.

She has been forced to withdraw one of her children from school.

“Walking every morning and during lunchtime is taking its toll on us since we were not used [to this]. It is also dangerous for us because hyenas come from the Merti plateau and roam the town in the morning,” said a pupil.

Mr Mohamed Duba, also a parent with two children at Hamsa, said he has to take his children to school every morning and pick them up. In the new premises, there is no water and we also have to buy drinking water for our children which is stretching our budget," Mr Duba said.

Schools in some parts of Meru county were also affected by the floods, with learners in three primary schools in Buuri, forced to learn under trees after the public health department condemned their classrooms.