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Somalia: ICRC launches emergency response for flood victims

22-11-2006 Press Briefing

The ICRC has begun an emergency operation to assist hundreds of thousands of people affected by heavy flooding in southern Somalia. The flooding, following the drought of early 2006, is exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation.


  ©Reuters/Shabele Media, courtesy    
  29.08.2006. People wade through flood water after a heavy downpour in Somalia's capital Mogadishu.    

The ICRC's deputy head of operations for the Horn of Africa, Alexandre Liebeskind, described the severity of the situation at a press briefing held in Geneva.

Torrential rains, which began in late October, have caused the Juba and Shabele rivers to burst their banks over 15-kilometre stretches of valley.

Due to the severe drought that has affected the region since the beginning of the year the land has been unable to absorb the water. The few crops that survived the drought have been washed away. Food supply chains have been disrupted and entire villages have been cut off. There are reports that crocodiles have killed at least 15 people after floodwaters swept them into villages.

Young children, the elderly and the sick are particularly vulnerable.

Meteorological forecasts are for a further deterioration, with the rainfall expected to last for several weeks.

Since last week, the ICRC has been providing drinking water to 45,000 people around the town of Belet Weyne in the Gedo region.

On 22 November, the ICRC began airlifting tarpaulins to provide shelter for 324,000 people in the worst hit southern regions of Hiran, Middle and Lower Shabele, Middle and Lower Juba and Gedo. In the coming weeks, the ICRC plans to provide them with mosquito nets to prevent the spread of disease, blankets and seeds to plant should the flood waters recede.

However, Mr Liebeskind said that food distribution may be necessary if the rains were to continue beyond mid-December which will make planting impossible.

He said humanitarian organizations faced significant logistical problems to reach all those affected by the flooding. As many roads are impassable, the ICRC plans to organize at least 40 flights from Nairobi where it has a logistics centre.

Light boats are being purchased to bring supplies to affected areas and evacuate communities surrounded by floodwaters.

The ICRC is coordinating its response closely w ith the Somalia Red Crescent Society, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations. In Kenya and Ethiopia, the respective national societies are leading the response.

Security guarantees for the humanitarian operation have been received both from the Transitional Federal Government and the Supreme Islamic Courts Council.

Life in Somalia is a daily struggle with mortality rates two to three times above the global average. The country's people have been worn down by 15 years of internal conflict with no functioning government. Moreover, there has been an upsurge in fighting this year between militias allied to the federal government and forces of the Supreme Islamic Courts Council.