Seasonal rain causes floods in riverine areas in Somalia
The Deyr rains (September-December) started in September in some parts of Somalia and moderate to heavy rains have continued in many parts of the country and within the Ethiopian highlands over the last three weeks, according to the FAO-Managed Somalia Water and Land Information Management (SWALIM). As a result, in Belet Weyne and Jowhar riverine areas, the Shabelle river levels have surpassed the high risk level of flooding and are just a few centimeters to bank full capacity. By 21 October, the Shabelle river level was at 7.72 meters in Belet Weyne, less than half a meter below the bank full level of 8.30 meters with flooding reported in the town. In response, some residents have already begun relocating to higher ground. In Jowhar, river levels are near bank full, while two major breakages at Maandheere and Dhamasame (Jowhar) have reportedly resulted in flooding. Reports from neighboring areas in Ethiopia indicate overbank flows from the Shabelle with the flood water expected to reach Somalia in a day or two, thus increasing the risk of flooding in the region. The river levels are very high in Bulo Burto, Mahadey Weyne and all downstream reaches, and a similar trend is expected from upstream. Moderate to heavy rains are projected in the Ethiopian highlands that feed the river this week, and the Shabelle River is expected to rise further, leading to overbank spillage.
Along the Juba River basin, water levels are also high, with flooding reported in Doolow, Luuq, and Bardheere. On 21 October, SWALIM issued another alert on possible floods along the Juba river advising communities in these areas, to move to higher grounds. In light of the forecast, flash flooding is also expected in built-up and low lying areas of Bay, Bakool and central regions.
Humanitarian impact and needs
Latest reports received in the evening of 21 October indicate that nearly 40 per cent of Belet Weyne town has been affected by flooding with an estimated 72,000 people having moved to Ceel Jaale highlands and surrounding areas. All villages in the north of Belet Weyne town have been affected and humanitarian partners are yet to establish the number of people displaced in these areas. The situation is further compounded by flooding from an outburst of minor tributaries in Belet Weyne, which has caused damage to farmland in villages such as Hawo Taako. Significant portions of crop land were also flooded in Bardheere in Gedo region, (where the river is already at bank full) and Bualle. Riverine communities have been asked to vacate their homes to higher ground with immediate effect. The rains will continue in the next seven days and river levels will continue to rise, further worsening the flood situation. Local authorities working with humanitarian partners are closely monitoring the situation. During the 2018 Gu’ season, Belet Weyne town and surrounding areas were the worst affected by riverine flooding with an estimated 186,000 people displaced to several locations.
Humanitarian coordination and response
To strengthen flood preparedness and ensure a coordinated response, a Hiraan flood taskforce was activated in Belet Weyne under the leadership of the Governor. The task force is made up of local authorities and humanitarian partners. An initial assessment conducted by the task force in Ceel Jaale—where displaced communities are being relocated to—identified Shelter/ NFIs, food, WASH, emergency latrines and security as priorities. Dissemination of early warning information to flood prone-areas, including SWALIM flood alert SMS’ to the vulnerable communities along the rivers is curtailing the loss of assets and life. The provision of clean drinking water to 12,000 families is ongoing. Partners have pre-positioned emergency supplies ready for deployment. These include hygiene kits for 8,500 families, water treatment chemicals and four boats for rescue operation. Food for 4,000 families is expected to arrive in Belet Weyne shortly.
However, lack of shelter and emergency latrines is a major concern. If the river continues to rise and surpass the highrisk level, motorized boats will be required to reach people in isolated locations. There are currently four boats in the area, but more will be required. The local authorities have issued appeal for urgent humanitarian assistance with the situation expected to deteriorate.
The two perennial rivers in Somalia, the Shabelle, which runs through Hirshabelle and South West states and the Juba, which extends the length of Jubaland, require constant maintenance and upkeep, which has been lacking for several decades. An estimated 10 centimeters of silt accumulates on the riverbeds, resulting in a loss of volume retained within the embankments, which are themselves in disrepair. Dredging of the rivers to remove silt and refuse and reinforcement of the embankments are required to prevent flooding, which has become an almost annual event due to the state of disrepair of the two rivers.