Up to 1 million people threatened by flooding in southern Somalia, UN warns
Up to 1 million people in southern Somalia could be directly affected by the worst flooding in 50 years, deepening a humanitarian crisis already exacerbated by renewed fighting in a country that has not had a functioning national government since 1991, according to United Nations emergency relief officials.
“The flooding is particularly worrying, given security constraints and other obstacles to access, including flooding itself, that have recently reduced the operational space for humanitarian actors,” UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia Eric Laroche said in his latest update, noting that 50,000 people were displaced in Hiran region over the weekend.
The Shabelle and Juba Valley river basins are potentially facing one of the worst floods in recent history, with some stations recording more than six times the normal rainfall. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) early warning system projects that up to 1 million people could be directly affected throughout the river basins over the coming weeks.
Over the last weekend, the Shabelle River in Hiran hit a 50-year flood level, submerging the river gauging site and the main bridge and inundating the entire town of Beletweyne.
“Given the situation in Hiran, communities further downstream will also be at high risk as the water surge reaches Middle and Lower Shabelle,” Mr. Laroche said. “In these regions, we expect the situation to get worse.”
Abnormal rains are expected to continue into early 2007 in the Horn of Africa region, where hundreds of thousands of people have also already fled their homes in Ethiopia and Kenya.
To date, food relief, shelter materials and tens of thousands of treated mosquito nets and sandbags have been provided by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including CARE and CONCERN.
Contingency planning for a worst case scenario of concurrent floods and widespread conflict is underway, Mr. Laroche said. Further fighting between the Union of Islamic Courts, which has seized control of Mogadishu, the capital, and the transitional government in Baidoa would disrupt the ability of communities to cope and exacerbate an already precarious food situation.
With several primary roads currently impassable, flights are in many cases the only means of transporting aid supplies, but these now hinge on immediate air access from Kenya to Somalia. Earlier this month the Kenyan government suspended all flights into Somalia, but Mr. Laroche is optimistic that the ban will be lifted for humanitarian flights.
Across the Horn of Africa, thousands of poor farming families now find themselves sleeping outside in the cold, exposed to malaria and other diseases, amid serious concerns that the death toll could increase rapidly.
In north-eastern Kenya flooding has engulfed camps where the UN is caring for tens of thousands of Somalis who have sought refuge there from fighting in their own homeland, uprooting more than 78,000 people and killing two.
“UNICEF’s main concern in regards to health is the spread of waterborne diseases,” the agency’s Emergency Programme Officer Susan Ngongi said. “Key among them are cholera, dysentery and acute watery diarrhoea.”
UNICEF is distributing water-purification tablets and oral rehydration packs to treat diarrhoeal dehydration, as well as emergency health kits, and WFP has airlifted emergency food supplies to the camps.