NEW YORK / NAIROBI - November 22 - Heavy rains over the last few weeks have caused flooding of the Juba and Shebelle rivers in southern Somalia, bringing devastation to much of the surrounding areas and aggravating humanitarian needs in one of the most densely populated regions in the country. Thousands of families have seen their homes destroyed and thousands more are displaced, including hundreds of families trapped in pockets of higher ground.
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has already been working in a hospital and a therapeutic feeding center in Marere, a small village along the Juba river, approximately 80 kilometers north of Kismayo, and has begun responding to the emergency. However, many of the needs are still to be met, and other humanitarian agencies must respond to the emergency.
The greatest need to address is the lack of drinking water. Most people usually rely upon shallow wells as a water source. Local sources estimate that over 70 percent of these are now contaminated due to flooding. People will be limited to drinking floodwater, and, lacking charcoal and firewood, there is limited opportunity to boil water to make it safe for consumption. This brings a greater risk of water-borne disease. MSF has two confirmed cases of cholera already under treatment and several more suspected cases.
There is also an acute need for food supplies. On top of the usual food shortages at this time of the year, many families have lost food stocks due to the floods, while many others have seen their crops for the forthcoming December harvest destroyed in the fields. Large numbers of goats and cattle have drowned. As crop yields are expected to be non-existent for many people, there is increased risk of malnutrition in an area that already has chronic food shortages.
Additionally, there is a large need for shelter materials. Many families who have lost their homes are now living in the open and are exposed to torrential rain, increasing the risk of respiratory infections and, particularly, of malaria.
"MSF's ability to respond to these increased risks to health is greatly hampered by access problems," says Colin McIlreavy, head of mission for MSF. "The floodwaters are already preventing patients reaching the MSF hospital in Marere. All logistical and medical materials must be flown in as roads simply do not exist any longer."
Few people in the area can swim and several have been drowned while attempting to cross streams and rivers. Of critical concern to MSF is the challenge of bringing food to 750 severely malnourished children currently enrolled in its specialized feeding program, and of providing medical care to patients with severe diarrhea. Boats are being flown in, yet these will be able to carry a mere fraction of people in need of urgent medical care and essential supplies.
MSF is preparing response plans, materials, and expertise to be rushed to the areas affected by the flooding. However it is clear that many other humanitarian agencies must be involved to meet the various needs.
MSF is currently working in a number of locations in south and central Somalia including Mogadishu, Jowhar, Galkayo, Galgaduud, Huduur, Dinsoor, and Marere. MSF teams are also responding to the floods that have affected the Dadaab refugee camps, situated on the Kenyan/Somali border.