Somalia's year of climate misery: from devastating drought to fierce flashfloods

2019-12-18 14:28
A displaced woman washes some dishes and utensils in front of her tent at a displacement camp in Beledweyne, Somalia. (Luis Tato/AFP).

A displaced woman washes some dishes and utensils in front of her tent at a displacement camp in Beledweyne, Somalia. (Luis Tato/AFP).

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As Somalia withered from a drought early this year, and her goats dropped dead from thirst, Maka Abdi Ali begged for rain.

When the skies finally opened, nature was unmerciful.

Unrelenting downpours in October turned to flash floods, destroying her meagre home and few remaining possessions, and washing away whatever harvest and bony animals farmers managed to save during the months without rain.

"I have nothing now," 67-year-old Ali told AFP in a squalid camp on the outskirts of Beledweyne in central Somalia.

Here, 180 000 people fled the fast-rising waters in the country's worst floods in memory.

The arid Horn of Africa country has always been hostage to climate extremes. Rain is erratic, and drought a feature of life.But catastrophic weather events are occurring in Somalia with ever-greater fury and frequency, trapping millions in a near-constant cycle of crisis.

Little by little, the ability to recover is ground down, say experts.

There is no time to rebuild homes and replenish food stocks before another disaster strikes.

The arid Horn of Africa country has always been ho
Displaced children, who were forced to leave their houses due to heavy rains and floods, gather while attending activities for children in a UN tent at a displacement camp for families affected by floods. (Luis Tato/AFP).


Impoverished and weakened by decades of war, battling an armed insurgency, Somalia is ill-equipped to cope with the destabilising impact of double-tap environmental crises.

Aid budgets are stretched trying to respond to back-to-back emergencies.

In May, the United Nations launched a drought appeal, warning of looming starvation as Somalia faced its worst harvest on record.

READ | 300 million people could be submerged as sea levels rise

Six months later, it's again appealing for help - this time for $72.5 million - for half a million victims of flood.

"There hasn't been a day this year where we haven't been talking about either drought or floods," Abigail Hartley, deputy head of office for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA in Somalia, told AFP.

A new norm

"The drought forced us to flee... now we are displaced by floods," bemoaned Maryama Osman Abdi, who abandoned her bone-dry farmland for a new start in Beledweyne.

Now, her home in ruins, she contemplates her next move.

Many had migrated to the banks of the Shabelle River - a lifeline which runs through Beledweyne - seeking water to revive their livestock, and nurture their crops.

But the river burst its banks under the ceaseless barrage of rain.

The arid Horn of Africa country has always been ho

A group of Nigerian policemen deployed in Somalia as part of the African Union peacekeeping mission patrol in Beledweyne, Somalia. (Luis Tato/AFP). 

The mighty flood that followed should in statistical terms occur only once in 50 years, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

But, the UN agency noted, the river overflowed in 2019, after 2018 and 2015.

"This was different from the others. I have never seen anything like it," Omar Dule, a 74-year-old who has spent his lifetime in Beledweyne, told AFP.

The FAO, bracing for the next overflow, is repairing embankments along the river long neglected by cash-strapped authorities.

Breaking point

East Africa has endured unusually extreme rainfall since October, with torrential deluges killing hundreds across eight countries, and displacing millions more.

This month, even as water slowly receded in Beledweyne, a tropical cyclone transformed deserts in Somalia's north into seas.

Bosaso, in the semi-autonomous Puntland region, received close to a year's worth of rain in less than two days.

Adding to the suffering, the FAO said on Wednesday that the country had been hit by its worst outbreak of desert locusts in 25 years.

Read more on:    somalia  |  east  |  africa  |  climate  |  change  |  flash floods  |  drought
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