Environment

Climate crisis

UN: Floods in Somalia overwhelm everything. Four hundred thousand displaced, risk of epidemics

From drought to floods, the 'weather whiplash' brings the Horn of Africa to its knees

16/05/2023

Floods in central Somalia forced thousands of families to flee their homes in Beledweyne, the most densely populated city in the region.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that, according to initial estimates, in the Horn of Africa nation "more than 460,000 people have been affected, including nearly 219,000 displaced people."

Flooding caused by annual rains has left a trail of destruction across the country. Houses and farmland were flooded, livestock were wiped out, schools and hospitals were closed.

In Hirshabelle State, one of the hardest-hit areas, the Shabelle River overflowed, forcing thousands of people to move to higher ground.

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The photo of the day of the NASA Earth Observatory: Horn of Africa, after the drought the floods

Rising water levels in Beledweyne forced the closure of a number of important facilities in the city, including government offices and the city's main hospital.

There are fears of an epidemic of cholera and malaria if the floods continue.

OCHA said the humanitarian response plan, which amounts to nearly $2.6 billion, is only 25 percent funded.

The alarm is also raised by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) which have sent text messages of alert to 5,000 farmers in the State of Hirshabelle and sent an initial supply of tools (sandbags and shovels) to mitigate the effects of flooding.

If heavy rains continue in Somalia and the Ethiopian highlands, up to 1.6 million people could be affected, with more than 600,000 displaced, according to UN agencies.

From drought emergency to floods

Until a few weeks ago the Horn of Africa, and Somalia in particular, was dealing with the consequences of the worst drought in the last forty years caused by five consecutive seasons of almost non-existent rains with almost 4 million people forced to flee parched lands (as well as conflicts) and seek safety in cities.

In March, international organizations in the country predicted that another 2023,300 people could be added by July 000.

Since then, torrential rains that have swept particularly vehemently over parts of the Horn of Africa have produced a dramatic flood emergency in what climate scientists describe as 'weather whiplash', the dramatic oscillation between extreme weather events.

"The alteration of the water cycle, particularly its extremes (drought and rainfall)," reads a study published in March in Water Nature and signed by Matthew Rodell, deputy director of Earth sciences for the hydrosphere, biosphere and geophysics at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, "will be one of the most obvious consequences of climate change."

Recently, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reiterated that the climate crisis is a global humanitarian emergency: due to extreme weather phenomena such as floods, storms and droughts, in the last 10 years there have been an average of 21.5 million new displaced people per year, including 23.7 million in 2021 alone.