An aerial view of submerged area in Beledweyne, Somalia on May 17, 2023. 90 percent of the city of Beledwayne was submerged due to flooding after heavy rains in Somalia.

An aerial view of submerged area in Beledweyne, Somalia on May 17, 2023. 90 percent of the city of Beledwayne was submerged due to flooding after heavy rains in Somalia.

Photo by Abukar Mohamed Muhudin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

Unprecedented Flooding Ravages Somalia, Displacing Hundreds of Thousands

Somalia faces a dual crisis of extreme rainfall and the aftermath of a severe drought, as flash flooding submerges up to 90 percent of Beledwayne.

Never-before-seen flooding in southwestern Somalia has claimed at least 29 lives, forced over 300,000 people to abandon their homes, and sparked a humanitarian crisis, according to Somalia's National Disaster Management Agency (SoDMA). The agency declared the phenomenon as the most severe in decades.

The flash floods, a consequence of relentless El Nino downpours in East Africa, have wreaked havoc following days of heavy torrents. Ferocious rainstorms since the beginning of the month have not only affected Somalia but also neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia, triggering landslides, submerging villages, and displacing large populations.

Somalia, still grappling with the aftermath of the region's worst drought in four decades, finds itself ill-equipped to handle the current crisis. Mohamed Moalim Abdullahi, chairman of Somalia Disaster Management Agency, had warned earlier about the impending rains, stating, "What is going on today is the worst for decades."

Hassan Isse, managing director of SoDMA, echoed the concern, emphasizing the severity of the situation. "We warned earlier about these rains and predicted this situation was coming," he said.

The most affected regions are in the southwest of the country, where over 29 people have lost their lives, and approximately 850,000 others have been affected, with more than 300,000 displaced from their homes. Rescue efforts are hampered by inaccessible roads, and aid workers are facing challenges, according to the UN humanitarian agency, OCHA.

“Inaccessible roads and stuck vehicles are just some of the challenges aid workers in Somalia are grappling with,” OCHA reported on Wednesday.

A joint effort by aid agencies is underway to rescue 2,400 people trapped by rising floodwaters in the town of Luuq, on the road linking the Somalia-Ethiopia border with Baidoa.

The impact of the flooding is exacerbated by the compromised soil from the recent unprecedented drought, years of conflict, and the presence of al-Shabab militia, making building flood defenses and resilience more complex and costly, noted Nazanine Moshiri, a climate analyst at the International Crisis Group.

“I do not remember such floods in my life,” said Mohamed Farah, a local elder in Baidoa city, reflecting the astonishment of the affected communities. “People keep on evacuating looking for high ground.”

As Somali authorities search for thousands stranded by floodwaters, the international community is urged to step up assistance. The flooding has also caused turmoil in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia, with at least 15 people reported dead in Kenya and thousands displaced in the Somali region of Ethiopia.

Scientists emphasize that climate change is contributing to more intense and frequent extreme weather events, with the Horn of Africa particularly vulnerable to such impacts.