On brink of war, Somalia faces severe flooding

Unusually heavy seasonal rains are threatening Somalia with its worst floods in 50 years while the impoverished Horn of Africa country teeters on the brink of all-out war, the United Nations said on Thursday.

As forces loyal to the weak government and the powerful Islamist movement gird for full-scale conflict that many fear could engulf the wider region, about 50 000 Somalis have been displaced by devastating and deadly floods, it said.

“According to technical agencies, Somalia could experience the worst floods in a 20- to 50-year period,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement released in the Kenyan capital.

“Contingency planning for a worst-case scenario of concurrent floods and widespread conflict is ongoing,” it said, adding that parts of Islamist-held southern and central Somalia are currently uninhabitable due to flooding.

The town of Beledweyne, about 300km north of Mogadishu has been underwater since November 10, forcing 50 000 people from their homes, marooning another 15 000 and affecting 10 000 in nearby villages, it said.

“As the water surge flows downstream, conditions ... are expected to get worse,” OCHA said.

Witnesses and local officials said that at least 43 people have drowned, including several in Beledweyne, in raging flood waters since late October when torrential downpours first caused rivers to burst their banks.

The bulk of the dead are in the Bardheere, Lower Shabelle and Gedo regions, all controlled by the Islamists who seized Mogadishu in June and now hold almost all of southern and central Somalia, they said.

South of Beledweyne, in Jalalaqsi district, OCHA said it had reports that 19 villages had been abandoned due to floods, leaving about 1 000 families homeless.

It said about 2 000 hectares of cropland and 4 000 hectares of farmland, including pasture, had been destroyed in Jalalaqsi.

In the Islamist-controlled Lower and Middle Juba regions, south and west of Mogadishu, OCHA said 40 villages had been completely inundated but no casualties had been reported.

Relief efforts have been hampered by flooded roads and the military build-up and complicated further by a ban on flights to and from Somalia imposed by neighbouring Kenya this week for security reasons, it said.

“Current capacity to deliver emergency aid hinges partly on immediate air access from Kenya to Somalia,” OCHA said, adding that Kenya had exempted humanitarian flights from the ban, but still required 24-hour clearance.

“Several primary roads remain impassable and flights are in many cases the only possible means of transporting aid supplies.”

Somalia, a nation of about 10-million, has lacked a functioning central authority and any disaster response mechanisms since being plunged into anarchy after the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

The rise of the Islamists poses a serious challenge to the two-year-old transitional government that has been riddled with infighting and unable to assert control in much of the nation.

Tensions between the two have been rising for months, exacerbated by “rampant arms flows” from ten countries and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement with most of the weapons going to the Islamists, according to UN experts.

A report due to be discussed by the UN Security Council on Friday says that quite apart from natural disasters, Somalia now contains “all of the ingredients for the increasing possibility of a violent, widespread, and protracted military conflict”.

It says the Islamists are backed by Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Hezbollah, while the government is getting military support from Ethiopia, Uganda and Yemen. - AFP

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