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El Nino-worsened flooding a disaster for Somalia

Africa
 

In this image made from video, men walk through floodwaters in the town of Beledweyne, Somalia, Nov. 19, 2023. [Via VOA]

First, some families fled drought and violence. Now they say they have nowhere to hide from intense flooding as rainfall exacerbated by the weather phenomenon El Nino pummels large parts of Somalia.

Among the worst-hit towns is the densely populated Beledweyne, where the Shabelle River has burst its banks, destroyed many homes, and caused thousands to flee to higher ground near the border with Ethiopia.

Hakima Mohamud Hareed, a mother of four including one who is disabled, said her family constantly looks for shelter.

The family recently moved to Beledweyne, fleeing battles between the extremist group al-Shabab and Somali government forces. "We left our home in search of safety and stability, but little did we know that we would end up facing another calamity," she said by phone.

In the displacement camp of Kutiimo in Beledweyne, the floods destroyed the family's small, tattered tent. Wind lashes the damp and flimsy fabric.

"The floods washed away all our belongings, so we were left only with our lives," she said. "It was a traumatic experience for all of us."

They are not alone. According to the humanitarian group Save the Children, the flooding has forced an estimated 250,000 people, or 90% of Beledweyne's population, out of their homes.

Somalia's federal government declared a state of emergency in October after extreme weather exacerbated by El Nino destroyed homes, roads and bridges.

An El Nino is a natural, temporary, and occasional warming of part of the Pacific that shifts weather patterns across the globe, often by moving the airborne paths for storms. It is hardest in December through February. Scientists believe climate change is making El Nino stronger.

Many parts of Somalia, as well as in neighboring Horn of Africa nations Kenya and Ethiopia, are still receiving torrential rainfall. At least 130 people have died in the three countries in what aid agencies have described as a rare flooding phenomenon.

The U.N.-backed Somali Water and Land Information Management project has warned of "a flood event of a magnitude statistically likely only once in 100 years," the U.N. food agency said in a recent statement.

Some 1.6 million people in Somalia could be affected by flooding events in the rainy season lasting until December, it said.

Beledweyne, in the central region of Hiran, may be the most devastated community. As floodwaters swept through, homes were washed away.

Hakima said her family may be safe from flooding in their camp, but they are hungry and desperate for warm shelter.

"We ask our Somali brothers and sisters to help us get out of this situation, as we are struggling to survive," she said.

Mukhtar Moalim, a retail shop owner, described frantic attempts to save his property in Beledweyne's market after the river burst its banks. He and a relative swam towards the shop to try to prevent the water from flowing in, putting concrete blocks against the door.

But the water level keeps rising, threatening their residence on the floor above the shop from which they monitor the destruction.

At least 53 people have been confirmed killed by flooding across Somalia, said Hassan Issee, who manages emergency operations at the Somalia Disaster Management Agency.

"The situation is grave, and we are doing our best to relieve the affected people," he said.

Mogadishu, the Somali capital, has also been affected. The city's main streets, including the road to the airport, have flooded.

Speaking on Wednesday in the Dollow district of Gedo region, where many families have been displaced by flooding, Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre urged the international community to help.

"We are doing our best, but we need more support," he said.

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