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Somalia: aid continues for flood victims

13-11-2007 Feature

Three consecutive seasons of flooding have left farming villages in the Middle Shebelle region of Somalia with no crops. The ICRC continues to step in with emergency aid to bolster coping mechanisms as the next round of floods looms.

  ©ICRC/P. Yazdi    
  Many houses in the region are situated just a few metres from the water, and are actually lower than the swollen Shebelle river on the other side of the dyke.    
  ©ICRC/P. Yazdi    
  A child from Baadley village shows off the catch of the day. ICRC distributes fishing kits to villagers along the Shebelle river.    
  ©ICRC/P. Yazdi/so-e-00258    
  Lower Shebelle region. Sand bags provided to villagers by the ICRC to reinforce dykes.    

" If the dyke breaks, the town centre will be completely under water and all roads will be cut, " says Abdinur, a resident of Jowhar, the capital of the Middle Shebelle region of Somalia. There are houses just a few metres from the Shebelle river, and they are markedly lower than the swollen waters on the other side of the earth dyke.

Water is already seeping through the bottom of the dyke, which threatens to collapse at any time. It requires substantial repairs, not just reinforcement. " Nobody is leaving so far, " Abdinur adds. " We're all afraid of looting. "

 Sand bags holding the river – for now  

Twenty-five kilometres downriver from Jowhar, the waters have also reached a critical level. But after three seasons of flooding, farmers there have managed to strengthen the dykes with sand bags distributed by the ICRC.

In the village of Baadley, children play near the river or fish. Women are busy collecting water or preparing food. Men are in the fields, sowing maize. A few months ago, the population was living on the edge of disaster. Three consecutive seasons of flooding had left this farming village and others along the river with no crops.

For the third year in a row, their harvest was insufficient. With little to eat and nothing to exchange for essential items, a simple fishing hook was beyond their means. " I have four children. I was completely desperate, " says Mariel Hadj Abas. " My cooking pot was empty. We had lost most of our crop and in the end we didn't even have seeds to plant. "

In late September the ICRC distributed seed, together with food rations for two months (including 48 kg of beans and 24 litres of cooking oil per family) to 26,750 poor farmers and displaced families who had access to land. This operation improved food security for a total of 160,750 people facing economic hardship. In addition, fishing kits and farming tools were distributed to villagers along the river.

 Far from the fighting but vulnerable nonetheless  

These villages are far from the conflict in Somalia, but instability in the region has left them extremely vulnerable to climatic disasters such as flood and drought. Roads are inexistent and the villages lack essential services. ICRC relief delegate Daniel Gagnon has been visiting the villages by boat to verify the effectiveness of earlier distributions.

" The residents could easily find themselves cut off by the waters, with no one to help them, " Gagnon explains. " A famine – and famine is usually accompanied by disease – could devastate the entire area. We help the population bolster their coping mechanisms to reduce hardship and suffering. "

Mariel Hadj's husband, Abdullahi, sowed the seed distributed by the ICRC. " The storm isn't over yet, " he says. " We have food and seed, and my sons are fishing every day. But the river is still very high and a few villages haven't been able to sow because their fields are completely flooded. They're using sand bags to try to stop the water. " The ICRC has provided 110,000 sandbags for flood prevention in Lower and Middle Shebelle, Gedo and Lower and Middle Juba regions.

The ICRC's work in Somalia addresses the needs of people affected by protrac ted armed conflict, needs aggravated by extreme climatic conditions. The organization's emergency programmes include distribution of food and essential household items, ad hoc medical supplies, surgical services for first-aid posts located behind front lines, and work to provide access to clean drinking water.

In addition to these emergency programmes, the ICRC continues, as it has since 1977, to carry out other activities. These include medical support for 23 clinics run by the Somali Red Crescent Society in central and southern areas and to three hospitals in Mogadishu; repair and construction of water-supply devices; agricultural and livelihood projects; and restoring family links through the organization's tracing services and by means of Red Cross messages – brief personal messages to relatives made otherwise unreachable by fighting.