Central and Eastern Africa: Background brief on floods, 11/25/97

Central and Eastern Africa: Background brief on floods, 11/25/97

Department of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network
for Central and Eastern Africa

Tel: +254 2 622147
Fax: +254 2 622129

IRIN background brief on flooding in eastern Africa 25 November 1997

East Africa has been lashed for several weeks by torrential rain, creating floods and mudslides which have claimed both lives and homes. Unusual weather patterns over parts of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, blamed in part on the "El-Nino effect", have delivered as much as ten times the normal downfall for this time of year and triggered new humanitarian crises..

Farmers have been particularly hard hit. Crops have been destroyed and large numbers of livestock drowned. The damage to local infrastructure is also immense. Roads, bridges and houses have all been swept away and more rain is forecast.

UNDP's Nairobi-based Drought Monitoring Centre (DMC) expects the current downpour to continue until mid-December. For western Kenya and parts of the Lake Victoria region of eastern Uganda, it warns the rains could stretch into January/February.

Following is a brief country-by-country situation report:

SOMALIA: Major food deficit predicted

More than 1,300 Somalis have died since the Juba and Shabelle rivers burst their banks a month ago and some 270,000 people have fled their submerged villages. Some of the displaced are huddled on fingers of land surrounded by flood waters. Malaria and respiratory tract infections, rather than drowning, are increasingly claiming victims among the survivors, UNICEF's Somalia office told IRIN.

Somalia is generally a flat and arid country. The Juba and Shabelle in the south are the country's only two perennial rivers, fed from the Ethiopian highlands.The short rain season - the Deyr - usually runs between October and November. However, heavy rains in Ethiopia coupled with torrents in southern Somalia - over 1,000 percent more than seasonal averages in some areas - has led to disaster. The affected regions are the two river valleys and the inter-riverine areas. The rising water level of the lower Shabelle marsh has met the Juba overflow, creating flood plains more than 12 km wide, hindering access to affected populations. The last time the two rivers merged was in 1961.

According to conservative estimates, flooding has wiped out 40 percent of the sorghum crop in the belt of agricultural land between Bay and Bakol. The weather phenomenon has exacerbated the disruption to agriculture caused by insecurity around Baidoa. Food stores, traditionally kept underground, have also been lost. If farmers cannot re-plant in time for the January harvest, it will mean a third consecutive crop failure for some households. "The implications are of a major food deficit in the New Year,"a UNICEF spokesperson warned. "It's a very frightening situation." There is also concern that the traditional cholera months at the end of the year will be more intense this season. Cholera outbreaks have already been reported in the region and there are fears the disease could reach epidemic levels as as increasing numbers of people are thrown together in insanitary conditions. Four desperately needed helicopters, hired commercially for a month by UNICEF, are expected to join the search and relief operation at the weekend, mounted by humanitarian agencies.

KENYA: National emergency declared in eight districts

Kenya's short rains usually last from October-December. But up to 10-times more rain than normal for October fell in the northeast. The Tana River, Kenya's largest, has burst its banks at several points and there is serious flooding below Garissa town. Some 122,000 refugees have fled three camps in Garissa district for higher ground, according to a Reuters report. Continued rain upstream threatens settlements around the eastern end of the river. Along the Tana, farmers have lost their stored grain and vegetable and banana crops. Food prices in Mandera, on the Ethiopian border, have tripled. The population of the most severely-affected districts (Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Tana River and Lamu) is about 900,000. In addition to those districts, the government has declared a state of emergency in Marsabit, Moyale and the Coast.

In Kenya's western region, much of the maize crop is under water. It "provisionally looks worse than last year's drought-affected crop," the USAID's Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) Nairobi office told IRIN. "Based on previous El Nino patterns," the DMC predicts rain into January/February for western Kenya. In the rest of the country, the skies should clear by next month. But, even if the rain stops soon, WFP estimates it will be at least a month before any normal transport links can resume in the northeast. However, although disastrous in the short term, a FEWS analyst suggested the rains could help speed the northeast's recovery from a long drought by leaving fertile soil for farmers when the waters recede. At that time, aid workers stress farmers must have sufficient seeds to take advantage of the situation.

ETHIOPIA: Government issues international appeal

According to official estimates, a total of 297 people have been killed and 65,000 displaced in eastern Ethiopia's Somali National Regional State. As a result of heavy rains in the highlands over the past month, some 30,000 hectares of cropland is inundated and some 4,252 homes destroyed along the region's river systems. The Baro and Akobo rivers in the west "have also been running very high", threatening a number of low-lying communities in the Gambella region, UNDP's Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia reported last week. With villages cut off, a government air-relief operation has been mounted to pre-position supplies in the central Ogaden town of Gode and an airforce helicopter deployed to shuttle supplies to affected communities around Kelafo, Mustahil and Ferfer and to rescue people trapped by the rising water levels. Operations are being coordinated in the field by an emergency task force in Gode comprising representatives of the local administration, military, Red Cross and the Government's Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission (DPPC). Following an appeal for international assistance, France has supplied two helicopters which have arrived in Gode.

UGANDA: Flooding in east, landslides in south

Eastern Uganda shares the same rainfall pattern as western Kenya. According to the DMC, the region has had "abnormally heavy rainfall". The rains started up to one month late, but their onset has been accompanied by flooding in the east which has killed 35 people in Mbale district. The state-owned 'New Vision' has also reported that heavy rains in the south have caused landslides in the mountainous Kabale area which have blocked roads.

Nairobi, 25 November 1997


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Date: Tue, 25 Nov 1997 18:12:23 -0300 (GMT+3) From: UN IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <> Subject: Central and Eastern Africa: Background brief on floods 97.11.25 Message-ID: <>

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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