Somalia faces floods disaster

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The Independent Online
Torrential rains have killed thousands of Somalis and trapped many more on islands in the flood. Marcus Tanner says any relief effort will be hamstrung by donor countries' fears of becoming entangled with the country's notorious warlords.

Flood-stricken Somalia was facing disaster yesterday after the country's two main rivers burst their banks and joined together, creating vast flood plains and trapping thousands of people.

Western aid agencies in the country, which has been torn apart by clan warfare in the last few years, said several thousand may have died in the rains, while tens of thousands more were marooned.

"We are having to make our assessments from the air", said Paul Anticoni, a Red Cross officer involved in the relief effort said. "What we are seeing is huge tracts of land and huge crowds on small islands. I hesitate to think what will happen to them. They are without shelter; some have a few sheep with them. We have seen people standing on roof tops which are collapsing. Our dilemma is whether to try to rescue people, or try to get food to them first. On top of that, the waters are still rising."

The Juba and Shabelle rivers flow from near the border with southern Ethiopia and western Ethiopia before merging just before the Indian ocean in the south of Somalia. Much of the land in this region is near or below sea-level and it is here that the two rivers have merged into a huge lake.

Somalis depends almost entirely for their livelihood on crops and livestock. The floods have swept away recently planted maize and a large proportion of the cattle.

After the waters recede, Somalis will face horrendous problems with contamination and diseases such as cholera, Mr Anticoni said.

An international appeal for $10m (pounds 6m) to support the relief operation has resulted in only $5.6m so far, the United Nations Children's Fund said.

The country remains so unstable that many nations are reluctant to offer aid out of a justifiable fear that the relief will be simply kidnapped by the warring factions and used for the benefit of their militias, rather than civilians. Somalia has not even had a national government since the overthrow of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

As a result of the collapse of Somalia's infrastructure, the aid effort is having to be co-ordinated in neighbouring Kenya.