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Extreme Heat Wave Pushes South Sudan to Close Schools

South Sudan has long been hit by climate change-exacerbated disasters like recurring droughts and floods. Now, extreme heat is forcing the world’s youngest nation to close its schools.

The authorities have ordered schools across the country shuttered since Monday because of a wave of excessive heat that is expected to last at least two weeks. Temperatures are forecast to reach 113 degrees Fahrenheit, far above the 90-degree highs typically experienced in the dry season from December to March.

Officials did not say how long the schools would remain closed. But the health and education ministries said in a joint statement that “any school that will be found opened during this time will have its registration withdrawn.”

Parents have also been urged to stop their children from playing outside and to monitor them for signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

The sweltering temperatures in South Sudan, whose tropical climate includes both dry and wet seasons, are interrupting the onset of the academic year. Most schools in the East African nation, especially those outside Juba, the capital, are congested and underfunded and lack infrastructure such as air-conditioners to help withstand such heat.

South Sudan is highly exposed to severe climatic events, including droughts, floods and rising temperatures. These changes have exacerbated displacement, food insecurity and communal conflict in the nation of 11 million people, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011.

The heat wave is also expected to put pressure on the country’s nascent health care system, which has long grappled with limited financing and worker shortages.

South Sudan is not the only African country where extreme weather events have precipitated school shutdowns. In 2022, Malawi’s government shortened the school day in the southern Shire Valley because of rising temperatures. And in Uganda, severe floods have repeatedly forced the government to close schools over the years.

Yet in South Sudan, conflict, a worsening humanitarian crisis and a tense political environment have made it even harder to mitigate the turmoil of climate change.

South Sudan’s civil war has claimed the lives of some 400,000 people and displaced millions more since 2013. And although a tenuous political agreement has held between the country’s feuding leaders over the past few years, a growing humanitarian crisis and deadly rifts among forces within the ruling alliance have added to the uncertainty over whether repeatedly postponed elections will take place this year.

At the same time, the war in neighboring Sudan has forced the return of nearly half a million South Sudanese who had fled the conflict in their own country. Many have come back to towns and villages where their homes and farms have been pillaged and are finding it hard to rebuild their lives.

Emmanuel Lokosang, the head teacher at Jada Jedid Nursery and Primary School in the capital, said he hoped the weather would cool down soon so that students could resume classes.

“Juba is really hot,” Mr. Lokosang, whose school has over 600 students, said in a telephone interview Wednesday morning.

He added: “We hope they don’t delay for long, because the more we delay, the more it affects the academic calendar and how we can recover the curriculum.”

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