As Somalia recovers from a tropical cyclone that battered its north-east regions, another humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Jowhar in the south of the country. Following heavy rains in the Horn of Africa, the River Shabelle burst its banks, submerging entire villages and farms in its path.
Thousands of people have been displaced by the floods and have been forced to seek shelter in higher grounds. The dire situation is compounded by inter-clan clashes between the Jareer and Abgaal clans. So far the conflict has claimed more than one hundred lives.
Hundreds of families fled to the AMISOM base in Jowhar airfield in the first days of the conflict. Ali Haji Wehelow is among the displaced. He hails from Gaafaay, a small hamlet by the river. Once the water rose and clashes broke out, Ali trekked for dozens of kilometers together with other villagers, finally arriving at the airfield.
“The rains and the floods have brought problems. They have increased the hunger, our farms are submerged and we do not have any food. We are in a difficult position. Unless we receive help, we will not have anything,” he lamented.
Majority of the displaced are women and children. A small tent has been converted into a makeshift maternity ward. The overwhelmed medical staff have successfully delivered more than twenty babies in the last week. More patients are recovering from gunshot wounds, Malaria and other diseases while the doctors struggle to remedy severe malnutrition cases.
Food and medical supplies are running low. Troops have been sharing their rations to sustain the displaced families. Due to the terrible state of the roads, transporting supplies has become an arduous affair. AMISOM received the first aid convoy from Qatar Charity, an international agency based in Doha. The convoy took 4 days to navigate the 90-kilometre road from Mogadishu carrying food and tents for approximately a thousand families. But this is far from enough.
“As I talk today, there are approximately a total of four thousand people that are in here. The most distressful one is the women and children. Most of their parents have been killed and you get these kids here, and you get these women here, without any help,” explained Brig. Gen Dick Olum, the Uganda Contingent Commander. “We also get another sad situation of the women in labor who are due for delivery. And as I told you here, AMISOM right here has delivered up to almost 20 kids,” he added.
Around the country, torrential rains and surges in river levels are causing havoc. Residents in towns like Beletweyne, which experienced severe flooding last year are already evacuating from the low lying areas.
“The urgent need is firstly to get food to them. Secondly, shelter; we need shelter. Thirdly, we need medication. Those are the crucial requirements that we need. And this has been a situation that befell us without preparation. But I think the three, as I mentioned are crucial. One, medical care, shelter and food,” said Brig. Gen Olum.
Already, Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh has called for an end to the violence, but the situation is threatening to get out of hand as more flood victims arrive on a daily basis. With supplies dwindling, the victims’ spirits are temporarily lifted and their bellies filled by the meals they split with the soldiers as they crane their necks in the hope of spotting an approaching aid convoy.