Several people have been killed and thousands displaced after heavy rains in central Somalia’s Hiiraan Region caused the Shabelle River to burst its banks.
The worst affected areas are around the town of Beletweyne, the provincial headquarters of Hiiraan.
"Flooding in Beletweyne took place late at night between 27 and 28 September… While flooding along the river wateris not uncommon at this time of year, the amount of rainfall over such a short period could not have been anticipated. There was 188mm of rain overnight," Russell Geekie, head of public information for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told IRIN in an email.
The night’s 188mm of rain is equivalent to the area’s yearly average rainfall.
"We estimate that 3,500 families have been displaced from Beletweyne town… A number of people have been killed in the flooding," he added. Fatality estimates range from six to over 20.
Government officials in the area have urged aid agencies to assist the population, expressing concern about the possibility of waterborne diseases if help is not forthcoming.
"We are homeless and, worst of all, do not have food to eat and let alone medical care, so we are requesting the agencies to come and help us," said Asha Elmi, a resident of Beletweyne whose home was destroyed by the floods.
Humanitarian response ready
According to OCHA's Geekie, the main humanitarian needs include temporary shelter, latrines, fresh water and food.
|Floods will likely destroy crops, delay the harvest, and contribute to outbreaks of malaria and other waterborne diseases|
"While we were caught off guard by the severity of the rain last week, we had been planning for anticipated flooding. Humanitarians had set up a flood task force," he said. "With funding from the Common Humanitarian Fund, UNICEF and local NGOs had prepositioned supplies in regional hubs, including water, chlorine and aquatabs [water purification tablets], which a local NGO is already distributing. We anticipate that we will be able to meet people's other basic needs in coming days and weeks.”
The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has also been in the area, distributing food and moving flood victims to higher ground.
Further floods expected
Geekie warned that the 'Deyr' rains, the short rains that typically fall between October and December, have only just begun, and that there is risk of further flooding and suffering.
"While this is expected to have an overall positive impact on the humanitarian situation in Somalia by contributing to an expected above-average harvest, the short-term consequences that we are witnessing are very serious," he added. "According to the Somalia Water and Land Information Management (SWALIM)… the rains will have the potential to bring suffering to hundreds of thousands of people living around the Shabelle and Juba rivers. Floods will likely destroy crops, delay the harvest, and contribute to outbreaks of malaria and other waterborne diseases."
SWALIM, which is managed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, is working to alert communities about possible floods and how to mitigate their consequences. Mitigating measures include closing intentional breaches in riverbanks, which are used to irrigate crops.
The service has also warned of possible flooding in other areas of the country, including the town of Jowhar - 90km north of the capital, Mogadishu - where the river level is at "full crest", and other riverine towns in the Lower Shabelle Region and in central and northeastern areas of the country.