El Nino flooding erodes resilience of Somalia's displaced

Satellite images show scale of flooding as Somalians battle drought and conflict

November 17, 2023, 5:14 AM

LONDON -- Satellite images show the scale of what the U.N. has called "once-in-a-century" floods that have displaced more than half a million people across Somalia in recent weeks.

Heavy rainfall and flash flooding are having "devastating" consequences for 3.8 million people already displaced within Somalia. The rain comes in the wake of intersecting crises; three decades of conflict coupled with the worst drought in 40 years has led to unprecedented levels of mass displacement and overcrowding in informal camps.

"Many areas have been left completely cut off, with bridges and roads destroyed," said Abdulkadir Ibrahim, director of communications at the Somali Red Crescent Society (SRCS).

He told ABC News that the situation in the country's central city of Beledweyne is critical.

Before and after satellite photos show flooding in Baidoa, the city in the southwestern Somalia has one of the country's largest populations of internally displaced persons.
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"90% of the population and the outlying villages have been displaced, whilst the remaining 10% are under siege. The latrine and shallow wells have been destroyed."

Videos filmed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) show residents in Beledweyne wading through waist-deep water and clinging to bridges to escape floodwater that Ibrahim (SRCS) confirms is contaminated.

The intensity and volume of rainfall this Deyr rainy season, which usually runs from October to December, has been exacerbated by two weather phenomena occurring simultaneously: El Niño and the Indian Ocean Dipole, both linked to sea surface temperatures, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

"It would be very, very difficult, even in normal circumstances, to deal with the impacts of these floods", said Nazanine Moshiri, senior climate and security analyst at conflict resolution thinktank Crisis Group, speaking to ABC News from Nairobi.

Somalia Red Crescent Society volunteers recovered a body from floodwater in Beledweyne on Nov 13, the city sits on the Shabelle river.

"Somalia's just come out of two and a half years of drought, you have deforestation and an al-Shabab militant insurgency, which is affecting and hampering humanitarian aid and pushing displacement," Moshiri said. "All of this has hampered any kind of resilience building in Somalia."

Baidoa, a large southwestern city, has seen an influx of some 6,000 people since the beginning of October. Many have arrived after fleeing drought, conflict or flooding. The city now has one of Somalia's largest displaced populations, estimated at about 650,000 by the IOM.

Many people moving to Baidoa have lost animals or farmland and fled to the city in the hope of accessing NGO and government support, Aliow Mohamed, Islamic Relief's country director in Somalia, told ABC News from Mogadishu.

"People are just left with nothing," Mohamed said.

About 250,00 people living in Baidoa's informal settlements had been impacted by the flash floods as of Nov. 6, IOM said. Mohamed said the makeshift camps have been destroyed.

"It's a flat city, there is no higher ground for people to move to, there is no way for the water to be drained, it's only a matter of time before we start seeing cases of malaria and waterborne diseases," Mohamed said.

Before and after satellite photos show flooding in Doolow a Somalian city that sits on the river Juba, close to the border of Ethiopia.
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According to the University of Notre Dame's Country Ranking on vulnerability, Somalia is the second most vulnerable country in the world to climate change.

Moshiri told ABC News that more research is needed before the "hugely complex links" between the recent flooding and human-induced climate change are confirmed.

"What we can say for sure, is that climate change made drought in Somalia more likely, and because of the drought, the impacts of the flooding are much more pronounced," she said.

A World Weather Attribution report found human-induced climate change made the drought in the Horn of Africa stronger and '100 times more likely'. Moshiri predicts Somalia's drought-flood cycles will become more extreme if nothing is done to reduce global emissions.

Abdullahi Hassan, a farmer in flood prone Beledweyne, sits on sandbags provided by the ICRC. They are the only line of defence between his farm and the overflown Shabelle River.

"It'll be very difficult to live in a country where 80% of people survive on rain fed agriculture," Moshiri said.

Somalia's Disaster Management Agency (SoDMA) scaled up preparedness efforts in anticipation of the El Nino rains. A new early warning system plays a recorded flood warning message from SoDMA when any telephone number is dialed regardless of whether the call is made in an area controlled by al-Shabab or without internet.

Despite early warning efforts, the U.N. predicts 3.7 million acres of farmland could be destroyed this rainy season. Samer Jarjouhi, who oversees ICRC's programs in Somalia, told ABC News that floods impact will be hard felt as it coincides with planting season.

"The farmers I have spoken to are apprehensive that their crops may be swept away. If this plays out, it will only deepen the country's already dire food insecurity problem," Jarjouhi said.

Abdullahi Hassan, a farmer from Beledweyne, a flood-prone town in the central Hirshabelle region of Somalia, told ICRC: "Your livelihood is swept away, and you must start from scratch".

"You come back to bare soil. My whole family is dependent on this farm," he said.