SOMALIA: Crops destroyed as Shabelle bursts banks

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Floods have destroyed at least 4,000 hectares of farmland in southern Somalia's Middle Shabelle region, affecting 12,000 people, local officials said.

The damage occurred around the town of Jowhar, the regional capital, where the Shabelle River burst its banks last week.

"Some of the villagers were about to harvest [crops] when the river broke its banks," Usman Haji Abdullahi Aqil, Jowhar district commissioner, told IRIN on 29 August. "Some 2,050 families [about 12,000 people] were affected and lost their crops."

He said residents of the area have had poor harvests during the past two years and were expecting 2007 to be a good year. "Now everything is lost and we have to appeal for help," said Aqil.

Aqil said the level of water in the Shabelle had been unusually high.

A local journalist, Nur Buqari, told IRIN that the river burst its banks, flooding at least six villages around Jowhar, 90km northwest of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and Balad, 60km south of Jowhar.

Worst affected are the nearby villages of Bagdad, Towfiq, Raqaylow, Bodaale, Hanaaney and Hawadley, said Aqil, who visited the villages. "All six villages are only accessible by boat." The villagers had moved to higher ground, he said.

Sheikh Mohamed Arba, a resident and elder of Towfiq village, told IRIN that villagers in his area had lost everything. "There is not one farm that has been spared in Towfiq." He said the area had suffered the same fate for the past two years.

The local administration was trying to build up the embankment with sandbags to prevent more flooding.

"I am now doing the assessment on what we will need, and the first priority is to assist the villagers and then to try to avert any more breaches of the river banks," Abdullahi said, adding that the level of the river was still rising.

The situation was exacerbated by the fact that since the collapse of Somalia's national government in 1991, nobody has been able "to de-silt the riverbed or manage the sluice gates on the rivers or adjoining canals", according to the district commissioner. Other local sources said farmers had also eroded the river bank in an effort to irrigate their fields.

The Somalia Water and Land Information Management (SWALIM) unit of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation described the situation in the Jowhar area as localised flooding caused by a breaching of the river banks.

The UN World Food Programme on 28 August appealed for US$22.4 million to avoid a looming break in food aid supplies for Somalia.

The agency said the number of people it aimed to feed in Somalia in 2007 had risen to 1.2 million, 200,000 more than previous estimates, as a result of an increase in food insecurity Lower and Middle Shabelle regions.

Source: IRIN