Flooding along the Shabelle River in Somalia caused the displacement of around 250,000 people earlier this year. Photo Credit: FAO
By Murimi Gitari, July 10, 2023, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is calling for enhanced early warning and anticipatory action in Somalia ahead of an expected El Niño and positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) event and the start of the upcoming rainy season in October 2023 that could affect up to 1.2 million people Somalia.
The country’s riverine communities are particularly at risk of flooding. They face a potential loss of property and livestock, damage to crops with around 1.5 million hectares of land at high risk of being inundated by flood waters along both the Juba and Shabelle rivers. This threat to local livelihoods comes on the back of a historic drought that has already negatively affected food security and people’s ability to cope with disasters.
El Niño is a climate pattern that occurs every two to seven years and brings with it a range of potential risks and opportunities to rural communities and their livelihoods in Somalia. The Indian Ocean Dipole is another climate pattern, also linked to sea surface temperatures but in the Indian Ocean.
Meteorological models from global and regional agencies, such as NOAA/FEWS NET, ECMWF, IRI, UK MET and ICPAC, show a strong confidence in increased rainfall over the eastern parts of the Horn of Africa and other climatic changes during these weather phenomena.
“We have the information needed to take action, and now is the time to work together as a humanitarian community to prevent another climate disaster in Somalia,” said Ezana Kassa, FAO’s Head of Program in Somalia. “We have just three months window to act and prevent the loss of more lives and livelihoods,” he said. The country has already witnessed a historic flooding event in the Shabelle river earlier this year, which displaced around 250,000 people.
Risks and opportunities for Somalia’s rural communities
In riverine communities along the Shabelle and Juba rivers, flooding can cause widespread damage to property and hamper critical services such as education, health care and the road network. It can also disrupt agricultural production through the flooding of farmland and crops, leading to food shortages. Coastal fishing communities can also be affected by El Niño, as flooding can bring storm surges and increased amounts of silt into rivers and oceans, reducing fish catches and placing fisherfolk at risk of loss of life and livelihoods. Affected livestock can also suffer from fevers and water borne diseases, carrying a risk of spreading to humans.
However, El Niño can also bring some much-needed opportunities for improved food security in rural communities, particularly in the aftermath of the severe three-year drought. In rain-fed agricultural areas, the increased rainfall can lead to increased food and fodder production. Farmers who are provided with information and education can take advantage of the improved rainfall to boost their productivity. Water catchments and dams can also fill up, providing better water security through the next dry season.
FAO is calling on all humanitarian stakeholders, government partners, and local actors to take the El Niño warnings seriously and to work together to prevent loss of life and livelihoods in Somalia. This includes providing early warning and education to communities about the flood risks of El Niño, pre-positioning emergency response resources, such as food, water, and shelter, and working with communities to develop contingency plans for dealing with the likely impacts of El Niño. There is also a short, three-month window of opportunity to support farmers to make the most of the increased rains through the provision of seeds and other equipment that would boost productivity.
FAO is committed to safeguarding and supporting food security in Somalia, strengthening food systems to be more resilient to climate shocks and the challenges of the future. By working together to prepare for the potential impacts of El Niño, governments and humanitarian partners can mitigate the worst of its impacts prevent loss of life and livelihoods and take advantage of opportunities to further strengthen food security in the country.