Thousands of people in Somalia are at immediate risk from imminent floods as river levels in parts of the country continue to rise. The Shabelle River has risen at an alarming rate over the past week due to unprecedented and excessive rains. Rains on the upper parts of the Ethiopian highlands are causing large volumes of water to flow rapidly towards Somalia.
As with the previous 3 years, FAO’s SWALIM flood bulletin released today, warns of a flood wave likely to inundate Belet Weyne, one of the largest cities in Somalia, in the coming days. The level of damage expected could supersede the mitigation and risk measures that have already been implemented, such as rehabilitating river embankments and, as in recent years, a limited evacuation from flood prone areas and extensive crop damage is likely to result.
Channel crest overflow is forecast between May 10-13 along the Shabelle River, particularly within the Hiran and Middle Shabelle Regions, affecting both urban and rural communities. To reduce the risk to human lives and livelihoods, an urgent and collective response is required. “It is time to act to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the people who will be affected by this unprecedented flood. A coordinated effort at all levels is required to mitigate the impact on the lives and livelihoods of those at risk,” emphasized Ezana Kassa, Head of Programme for FAO in Somalia.
Efforts to protect communities and strengthen their resilience to floods and other natural disasters such as droughts have been at the center of FAO and it partners’ development efforts in recent years. Many critical repair works are underway with funding from Sweden, Italy and the World Bank in collaboration with the State Government of Hirshabelle.
However, these serve to mitigate rather than eliminate flood risk. Unprecedented levels of rainfall upstream, as forecast, still pose a high flood risk to riverine communities. Chris Print, Senior Land and Water Advisor from FAO Somalia remarks, “We face a climate emergency in Somalia and in the region. The impacts of climate change on people will be felt mainly through water, driven by pattern shifts in regional weather, particularly rainfall and extreme events. The need for UN partners – their experts and programs – to come together and work on these challenges for a positive impact on Somali society has never been greater”
In addition to climate change, factors such as weakened riverbanks as result of erosion along the river have also aggravated flooding events. At times, river banks are also intentionally broken by communities as a means of irrigating crops. “By reason of the frequency and severity of flooding and its impact on livelihoods, this type of disaster will only increase with time without investments in longer term solutions. Integrated interventions are needed now for affected communities on the Shabelle River,” stated Etienne Peterschmitt, FAO Representative in Somalia.
As of May 7th, SWALIM activated its early warning system ‘Digniin’ sending alerts via SMS to the riverine communities to warn the population of the imminent risk. Additional collective, anticipatory and responsive action is urgently required to avoid loss of life and, subsequently, to support the rapid recovery of affected communities.