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Update No. 98/01 on ICRC activities to assist flood victims in Somalia and Ethiopia

18-02-1998 Operational Update No 98/01


Extensive flooding since November last year has brought extensive damage and loss of life to many parts of eastern Africa. Heavy, sudden downpours and poor drainage are often the cause of severe inundations but sometimes flooding is not directly related to rainfall but rather to flood waves which surge along river valleys, often with devastating force. In the worst-hit areas, thousands have taken refuge on dykes or tiny patches of dry land, completely cut off from fresh water, food and medical supplies sometimes for weeks or even months. Many more people have had to abandon their homes, gathering in make-shift camps with other internally displaced. ICRC assistance has taken different forms in Ethiopia and Somalia according to the different political contexts and historical role of the various components of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement within each country.

In the initial stages of the emergency in Somalia , the ICRC targeted the most vulnerable, delivering basic shelter material and high-protein biscuits to some 228,000 people in Gedo, Juba, Hiran, Middle and Lower Shabelle. As part of a second phase of assistance which is still on-going, 258,500 people are being provided with seeds to be planted once the waters recede in an attempt to minimize the effects of crop and food reserve losses, thereby limiting future food shortages. Whilst continuing to monitor the food and shelter situ ation of the most vulnerable, the ICRC is now focusing its efforts on longer-term food security, health and water and sanitation programmes. 

The incidence of water-borne diseases is rising rapidly due to open expanses of polluted water. Consequently, water and sanitation programmes are in great demand. Activities are focused on the lower Juba valley where water purification and well-cleansing programmes aim to minimize risks of malaria and diarrhoea. Efforts are also being made to reduce outbreaks of respiratory infections and to monitor the haemmorhagic epidemics, one of which is now known as " Rift Valley Fever " (RVF). 

In Ethiopia , operations have taken a different tack, with the ICRC providing support to the National Red Cross Society in its role as part of the Disaster Prevention Preparedness Commission (DPPC), a regional task-force assisting thousands of families in the Gode and Afder zones of Somali National Regional State.

Logistics for both operations have proved complicated and costly since many roads are either impassable or have been totally destroyed. Transportation by air has so far ensured the delivery of some 740 tonnes of supplies around the region but even this has been limited by poor conditions at landing-strips. In some places, a delivery to just one location can entail a variety of transport methods, including truck (with assistance from tractors and bulldozers), boat and foot. This complex logistical situation has been compounded by Somalia and Ethiopia's particular security context which has restricted movements and hindered operations in some parts of the region.

The ICRC, the Internation al Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Federation), the Somali Red Crescent (SRCS) and the Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS) are all working together to alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable. Communication between the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and other humanitarian organizations has also intensified so as to ensure a concerted and coordinated relief operation to limit the severe immediate and long-term effects of the region's floods.



 Since early November, the ICRC has assisted 228,000 people affected by the heavy floods with high-protein biscuits, tarpaulins and medical supplies as part of its emergency response programme...  

... and some 258,500 stand to benefit from a further ICRC programme which aims to assist farmers in their efforts to plant seeds with a two to three-month germination period in receding flood areas. Each family (five people) receives between 10 and 15 kg of maize, sorghum, cowpeas, sesame and/or assorted vegetable seeds selected according to local agro-climatic conditions. A food ration (30 kg maize, 10 kg beans and 5 litres oil) accompanies these distributions in an attempt to discourage the immediate consumption of the seeds themselves. Distributions have been completed, except in the lower Juba where they are still ongoing. This operation aims to limit the effects of damage to crops and food reserves which threaten food shortages of up to 4,000 m etric tonnes between now and July. A further seeds programme for the forthcoming Gu season is in its final planning stages (described separately under later section).


 (01.12.97 - 06.02.98)  


Benefi- ciaries




SEED (mt)

FOOD (mt)



















































Juba *






























































* operation ongoing

Considerable efforts are being made to coordinate field activities with other humanitarian organizations in order to agree on technical, operational issues and to deploy resources in the most effective way. Emergency non-food distributions are being phased out by all agencies since needs are changing from shelter to health and food. Whilst the ICRC will be carrying out its own assessment missions and monitoring the situation in order to ensure as full a coverage as possible, the World Food Programme (WFP) has taken the leading role in coordinating flood response operations. A particular area of concern for the ICRC is Bay and Bakool where security conditions are particularly hazardous and threaten to hinder the delivery of humanitarian assistance.


 A total of 70 tonnes of maize seeds and 10 tonnes of high-energy biscuits was distributed by the ICRC, whilst the DPPC provided the sorghum food grains...  

The ICRC and the ERCS are working with the DPPC and regional and zonal health bureaus to coordinate assistance to the especially hard-hit areas of south-eastern Ethiopia. Joint efforts have so far ensured the provision of non-food assi stance, seeds and medical supplies for some 50,000 people.

In November, three rotations of ERCS/ICRC-chartered Hercules flights took 10,000 blankets, 80,000 sq m of plastic sheeting, 5,000 jerrycans and dispensary and paediatric sets for 25,000 people to Gode. During a six-day mission at the end of December, a convoy of four ERCS and two ICRC trucks, set out with 28 tonnes of food, 13 tonnes of seeds, a tonne of medicines and just over a tonne of high-energy biscuits for the first relief convoy by road to Hargele and Cherati in the west of Afder zone. Local elders and emergency committees distributed items in previously inaccessible communities.

Veterinary medicines were supplied for the treatment of 430,000 camels, cattle, sheep and goats. 

Flood waters started to recede by the end of December, so the provision of seeds for immediate replanting became a priority. At the same time, food grains and high-protein biscuits were distributed in order to minimize the risk of the seeds being used as an immediate food source. 


 Gu season seeds programme  

In anticipation that the rains will stop and that the normal weather patterns and agricultural cycle will re-establish themselves, field surveys are being undertaken with a view to devising a plan of action for the Gu season (the main planting season in Somalia's agricultural calendar (due to start late March)). The ICRC is currently assessing the possibilities for flood recession farming based on past and ongoing experiences, the planned assistance of other humanitarian agencies and security/ access conditions.

Again, Bay and Bakool could prove to be particularly vulnerable since there has been considerable damage to crops, underground stores and infrastructure but unlike in the river valleys, there are no established post-disaster response mechanisms. Flood recession planting is not practiced in the region, nor is it feasible. There are fewer alternative food sources (such as mango trees or fish) and the security situation in the region compounds the problem. 


 Only one-third of the deaths and infections reported in December are attributable to Rift Valley Fever (RVF)...  

As part of its contribution to a medical taskforce headed by the World Health Organization, the ICRC collected blood samples in Bulo, Burti, Bardera, Jalalaxi and Torowtorow in December'97/ January'98. Out of 46 animal samples, 11 showed acute signs of RVF; of the 15 human samples, three showed acute signs of the disease. However, the infectuous agent responsible for the remaining cases is as yet unidentified and conclusive diagnosis is pending further investigations and collections of blood samples -- a difficult task given the context of conflict and restricted access in Somalia. At this stage, RVF has no cure and possibilities of finding a vaccine are limited.

Programmes to combat the problem are on hold until investigations have been completed but the ICRC is trying to limit epidemics and improve general hygiene standards by implementing the usual preventive water and sanitation and health programmes.

Major efforts are being made throughout Somalia to combat serious outbreaks of cholera . Medical structures are being supported in a variety of ways in order to cope with the increasing number of patients. Since the beginning of its emergency operation against the disease, the ICRC has provided 2,659 litres of intravenous fluids, 54,620 sachets of oral rehydration salts and 12,000 antibiotic tablets to four " rehydration " centres. In the largest of these camps (Benadir), more than 2,000 new medical admissions have been registered since the beginning of December. Mobile, ex-patriate teams in Balad and Afgoi areas are training their local counterparts in preventive care which includes community hygiene awareness and early oral rehydration techniques.

Following a survey carried out by an ICRC health delegate, another rehydration centre was opened in Balad (north-east of Mogadishu) where cases of severe diarrhoea and deaths had been reported since early December. The running of the centre, which so far has had 56 admissions and recorded two deaths, is now in the hands of the Federation which has also taken over responsibility for the Afgoi centre (north of Mogadishu). 

The ICRC has set up health posts and clinics in order to combat malaria, acute respiratory infections and diarrhoeal diseases . In Belet Huen, where 25,000 people took refuge from the rising waters in a make-shift camp, the ICRC and the local branch of the SRCS opened a health post which has treated some 3,000 patients. In Marere and Jamame, two floating mobile clinics were set up in order to reach thousands of people trapped on dykes and patches of dry land. In Burdubo and Bardera (Gedo) and Buale and Jilib (Middle Juba), the ICRC provided local health professionals with essential supplies and medicines. 

 Water and Sanitation  

 More than 100,000 people will benefit from the ICRC's water, sanitation and medical activities.  

- Lower and Middle Juba  (Buaale, Marere,  Jilib and  Jamame) ; on the different IDP sites, a water and sanitation team is currently installing water purification systems, allowing access to treated water and improved general sanitation facilities to a total of 90,000 people.

- Hiran region ( Belet Huen ); ICRC water and sanitation teams have completed the construction of 20 latrines and have set up a water distribution system providing   150,000 litres of chlorinated water per day to the IDP camp's population.

All programmes are accompanied by general hygiene activities including camp cleaning and indoor/outdoor spraying of insecticides in order to reduce the high incidence of insect-borne diseases such as malaria.