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Thousands Flee Flash Floods in Somalia as El Niño Intensifies Rainy Season

Flood waters have damaged latrines, destroyed people’s belongings, and cut off roads as rivers over-flooded in the country’s Shabelle basin, which includes areas around the capital Mogadishu.
Women and their livestock wades cross the flooded Shabelle River during floods in 2013. (Photo by Reuters/Omar Faruk)

Flash floods are forcing thousands of people from their homes and shelters in Somalia, with the recent heavy rains pushing the United Nations to call for $30 million to prepare for a rainy season expected to be more severe than usual as a "Super El Niño" descends onto the globe.

Flood waters have damaged latrines, destroyed people's belongings, and cut off roads as rivers over-flooded in the country's Shabelle basin, which includes areas around the capital Mogadishu. Makeshift shelters for displaced people were also destroyed and local airports were reportedly affected. The rains began earlier this month impacting an already vulnerable situation in a country where more than 1 million people are already displaced.


"The situation is very concerning as El Niño conditions come amid an already fragile humanitarian situation, where about 3.2 million people are in need of life-saving and livelihood support," said Peter de Clercq, the humanitarian coordinator for Somalia. He added, "We are already seeing significant displacement, and humanitarian funding levels are critically low."

Humanitarian organizations are reportedly still working to determine the full extent of the damage and problems, but the UN's humanitarian office (OCHA) said it is trying to shore up $30 million for immediate response to the flooding and future preparedness efforts as scientists expect this season's El Niño to be the worst in nearly 20 years.

Related: 'Super' El Niño Looks Set to Ruin the Lives of Many of the World's Most Vulnerable People

According to OCHA, flood-prone areas in the country are being provided with monitoring information for the weather and water levels of nearby rivers, with an overall boost to activities for raising awareness. Humanitarian partners have preemptively put boats and supply stocks to be sent out in floods. Low-lying regions of Somalia typically experience flooding during the rainy season that usually wanes by October, but conditions are worse this year with the pending Super El Niño which is expected to prolong the wet months.

El Niño, which has diverse, wide-reaching global effects and typically occurs every 3-7 years, is caused by slowed trade winds that create warmer waters in the equatorial region of the eastern Pacific Ocean. In general, the shift in water temperatures and atmospheric patterns brings more precipitation to countries in North and South America, while causing drought in East Africa, as well as countries such as Australia and Indonesia. The phenomenon is expected to worsen drought conditions in semi-autonomous Somaliland along the Gulf of Aden.

While the warming of the Pacific Ocean caused by El Niño typically triggers drought in many places around the world, this is the opposite in East Africa where the temperatures of the Indian Ocean are also at play, according to Alessandra Giannini, a research scientist at Columbia University's Earth Institute.

"In lots of places what happens during El Niño is drought, the Horn of Africa is somewhat different than any other monsoon place," she said. "Usually during El Niño it responds by warming, if you put the Indian Ocean warming with Pacific Ocean warming then you have more rain in the Horn of Africa."

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