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Update No 1 on ICRC activities to assist the flood victims in Somalia and Ethiopia

13-11-1997 Operational Update


Hundreds of thousands of people in Somalia and Ethiopia have been affected by two weeks of torrential downpours. In some places, two thirds of the seasonal rain ( " Deyr " ) fell in less than 24 hours and, during the last weeks of October, rainfalls of between five and 25 times more than average were recorded. Flash-floods have killed people and livestock, inundated farmlands and destroyed harvests. Villages have been abandoned and streets and bridges have been washed away. It is feared that these floods could result in epidemics and long-term food shortages. 

The most severely affected areas are eastern Ethiopia (particularly along the Wabe Shabelle and Weyb rivers, near Hargele and Dollo) and the southern and south-western regions of Somalia (Juba and Shabelle valleys). Some of these areas are particularly sensitive due to the on-going conflict in the Bay/Bakool regions and are already well-known to the ICRC. Exact needs and numbers of victims are still difficult to define but, the ICRC has been working in conjunction with other aid agencies and the authorities to share information gathered from numerous field assessments and to co-ordinate relief efforts. At the time of writing, the ICRC is the only agency providing emergency assistance to cover the most immediate needs of those whose lives have been most seriously affected by the floods.

In southern Somalia alone, thousands of people are in a life-threatening situation as water levels continue to rise. A rescue operation on such a scale would require substantial logistical intervention well above the means of humanitarian age ncies.



The most immediate needs are shelter and food. In order to meet these needs, the ICRC has started to deliver tarpaulins, blankets and emergency food rations. Food assistance is supplied in the form of high-energy biscuits. Such " ready-to-eat " rations are necessary in this context, not least because of the unavailability of dry wood for cooking.

The ICRC is currently carrying out a relief operation to two districts in northern Gedo which have been completely cut-off by the high water levels. On 11 November, ICRC aircraft started to deliver shelter (tarpaulins and blankets) and emergency food rations to over 3,000 families in Burdubo and Luuq. 

Similar assistance is planned for a further 2,500 households in Buale and Sako where many villages are reported to have been under water for more than a week. In these areas, the UN estimates that some 20,000 people have evacuated some 15 villages and are now gathering in four main areas.

Jilib and Marere are suffering equally devastating conditions. However, access by truck looks possible at this stage and the ICRC is hoping to deliver blankets, tarpaulins and food rations to some 8,000 households in need of emergency assistance in the very near future. Assessments are ongoing along the Shebele river in order to ensure comprehensive monitoring of the situation there.


Parts of Ethiopia have also suffered substantial losses due to the floods. Again, whilst it is difficult to give precise numbers, in the Gode and Afder regions of Somali National Regional State alone, more than 150 people are thought to have died and some 10,000-15,000 families have lost their homes, crops and livestock. 

Since food needs are being assessed and catered for by the Ethiopian authorities, the ICRC is concentrating on providing assistance in the form of medical supplies, seeds (sorghum or maize) and shelter. Potential distributions to 5,000 households are pending the outcome of an ongoing needs assessment.

Concurrent with its ongoing programmes in the region, the ICRC continues to support the National Society in its role as auxiliary partner to the authorities during the current emergency.


Whilst the immediate needs are indisputably high, the medium to long-term consequences of the flooding are extremely severe and will have to be addressed.

In many cases, crops and stocks of food and seeds have been destroyed. In Jilib alone, where more than 50,000 hectares of agricultural land (of which 18,000 hectares were planted with sesame, cowpea, maize and sweet potatoes) are under water, an estimated 30,000 metric tonnes of maize have been lost to the floods. In Somalia, it is estimated that two-thirds of the food stocks (traditionally-kept in underground stores ( bakar) ) have been destroyed. The ICRC is on standby with maize/sorghum seeds which it can distribute as soon as the water recedes. However, at best, the earliest a crop could be expected would be the end of March.

In addition to the impact of food shortages on both rural and urban populations, consequences of the floods on short, medium and long-term health and water and sani tation systems have yet to be addressed in full. This will probably require the consolidated effort of all components of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and other humanitarian organizations.