(NEW YORK) — Rescue and relief efforts are underway in Somalia following historic flooding that has left at least 22 people dead and affected more than 460,000 people, according to the United Nations.
The flash and riverine flooding — said to be one of Somalia’s worst in decades — has been triggered by intense Gu seasonal rainfall which caused the Shabelle and Juba Rivers in central Somalia to overflow their banks.
“Floods have washed away livestock, inundated farmland and displaced an estimated 219,00 people,” Petroc Wilton, the head of communications at WFP Somalia, told ABC News. “We have been using chartered flights, boats and tractors to get into flood zones.”
She added, “Gu seasonal rains have caused these floods and increased humanitarian needs.”
At least 22 people have been killed, according to Somalia’s Disaster Management Agency (SoDMA). Somalia has also been experiencing its longest drought on record.
“It will take multiple rainy seasons to reverse the impacts of the drought,” said Wilton, noting that four million livestock have died.
“We are witnessing the Shabelle river’s worst flooding event in the last 30 years. The situation for many displaced families is very precarious right now,” said Ezana Kassa, the head of United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Somalia. “Livelihoods have been destroyed and the risk of water borne diseases are on the rise.”
Flooding is reported to be greatest in Somalia’s central state of Hirshabelle, where water levels have also forced the closure of government offices, schools and hospitals. Footage from the town of Belet Weyne shows residents wading through waist-deep waters.
“I am at a loss for words at the suffering of my people who have been going through so much without release,” Najima, whose family was forced to flee from Hirshabelle, told ABC News. “My aunt and my cousins have lost everything, their family photos, their valuables, their entire lives.”
She went on, “They are doing well in the circumstances but the devastation is too much to bear. There are no words.”
Scientists and climate activists warn that climate change is contributing to the extreme flooding and drought in Somalia.
“Somalia contributes 0.03% to greenhouse gas emissions. But as I just witnessed, Somalis are among the greatest victims of the chaos caused by the climate crisis,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at a news conference during his recent trip to Somalia in April.
He urged increased humanitarian support to the Horn of Africa to avert a famine crisis.
The UN forecasts as much as 1.6 million people could be impacted by flooding and over 600,000 displaced if heavy rains in Somalia and the Ethiopian highlands continue.
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