Flood Preparedness Makes a Difference in Drought-Prone Somalia

In late September 2012, OCHA’s Abdullahi Abdi drove to Somalia’s fifth-largest town, Belet Weyne. He knew it was almost the time of year when widespread flooding could occur. The timing of his trip was perfect.
A native of the town, Abdi spent a week helping local authorities, NGOs and other humanitarian partners prepare for the worst by updating flood contingency plans and pre-positioning emergency relief stocks. But halfway through his two-day drive back to Galkacyo, where he is based with OCHA, his phone rang.
“I could not believe what I heard,” said Abdi. He was told that overnight, a staggering 188 mm of rain had poured down, which is the equivalent of an entire deyr rainy season. “The rain came earlier in the year and harder than anyone in Belet Weyne could remember.”
The deyr rains, which normally fall from October to December, usually bring relief to Somalia's parched southern and central regions. But torrential downpours can lead to floods, which worsen the fragile nutritional situation facing large numbers of people in the area. Stagnant waters also pose major health hazards, such as cholera, acute watery diarrhoea and malaria.
The swollen Shabelle river, which snakes through Belet Weyne, broke its banks during the night. Almost 30,000 people fled their homes, including 10,000 who lived in makeshift huts (known as buuls). Troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia, who were stationed nearby, worked with local authorities to evacuate thousands of people from flooded areas. Local humanitarian partners activated their contingency plan, and an emergency task force—formed only days earlier—sprang into action to coordinate efforts.
Local NGOs distributed clean water, chlorine and purification tablets to prevent people from getting sick, and shelter kits were given to thousands of displaced families. These supplies had been pre-positioned with funding from the OCHA-managed Common Humanitarian Fund. Food and food vouchers were also distributed, and mobile health clinics were set up within days of the disaster.
Abdi returned to Belet Weyne within three days to help with the emergency response. “It was devastating,” he said. “Thousands of buuls were going up on high ground near the airport.”
Twenty-five people in the town and surrounding areas were killed, over 5,000 livestock had drowned and 85 per cent of the town was damaged. “The loss would have been much greater if OCHA and other humanitarian partners had not assisted with preparations,” said Ibrahim Addow, head of the Belet Weyne office of local NGO WARDI.
The emergency task force continued to coordinate the relief efforts as flood waters receded in October, leaving behind mud and waste from collapsed latrines. No major disease outbreaks were reported through the end of the year, and most displaced families had returned home by early December.
A girl stands in an IDP camp on the outskirts of Beletweyne. © AU UN IST PHOTO/Tobin Jones