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UN warns El Nino may reverse humanitarian gains in Somalia

Storyline:National News

Experts from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that a looming El Nino climate phenomenon could reverse humanitarian gains in Somalia.

Chief Technical Advisor of FAO Water and Land Information Management unit (SWALIM) Hussein Gadain said floods triggered by El Nino could affect up to 900,000 people along Somalia’s rivers.

“If El Nino conditions materialize, an estimated population of 900,000 people living in the riverine areas of the Juba and Shabelle rivers inside Somalia are likely to be affected by the floods,” Gadain said in a statement issued in Nairobi.

He said much higher than normal rains in the last third of 2015, resulting from the El-Nino climate phenomenon, could also reverse many of the development gains made in southern parts of Somalia since the Horn of Africa nation was affected by one of the worst famines in 2011.

Gadain said while some countries experience depressed rains during El Nino events, Somalia experiences heavier rainfall amounts that usually lead to flooding that may cause diseases, death and destruction of property and infrastructure.

The experts warned that El Nino, a warming of sea-surface temperature in the Pacific Ocean, occurs every few years and is associated with very heavy rainfall in East Africa and drought-like conditions in other parts of the region.

The scale of impact varies, but experts from FAO warned that this year’s El Nino could match the intensity of recent severe El Nino weather events, including the 1997-98 weather patterns which left large parts of southern Somalia underwater and killed 2,000 people.

Following 2011 famine that killed an estimated 260,000 people, the Horn of Africa nation has seen steady improvement of its food security situation.

However, over 731,000 people are still estimated to be severely food insecure, requiring urgent humanitarian assistance and livelihood support, according to FAO’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia (FSNAU).

Another 2.3 million people are classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and require interventions to protect their livelihoods and build their resilience to prevent them from falling back into Crisis or Emergency conditions.

Many children remain acutely malnourished, despite a small decrease in their numbers since July 2014. In particular IDPs continue to be very hard hit with little prospect for improvement.

Richard Trenchard, the head of FAO in Somalia, said the early warnings have spurred people into action.

“We all learnt the importance of converting early warning into effective early action following the devastating 2011 famine,” Trenchard said.

He said FAO welcomes the commitment of a number of governments, including the Britain and the U.S. to make resources available or allow humanitarian partners, including FAO, to begin planning for possible heavy flooding soon after the first warnings appear.

Humanitarian partners are now working together to identify possible preparatory and early response actions that will strengthen the ability of households in possible flood-affected areas to better prepare, respond and recover from major flood events, should they occur.

“Against this backdrop of fragility and very low household resilience levels, we fear Somalia could be very hard hit by massive flooding and the burden it bares on Somali communities still recovering from impact of drought, conflict and disease,” said Daniel Molla, the chief technical advisor of FSNAU.

The UN food agency and other partners have called for urgent early action to prepare Somalia’s riverine populations to cope with the flooding and enable fast recovery.

Somalia has suffered on-and-off civil war for the last two decades waning its population’s ability to cope with natural disasters.

The El Nino in 1997-8 was the worst in recent memory. It caused massive flooding along the Jubba and Shabelle rivers in Somalia, led to major animal disease outbreaks, which contributed to a long-lasting export ban in 1999 resulting from rift valley fever, an animal disease that is particularly prone to flooding and prolonged wet conditions.

With over 65 percent of the Somali population depending on livestock, the sector is likely to be very badly hit.

Food production, mostly along Jubba and Shabelle rivers, is also likely to be dramatically affected, at least in the short-term. Other El Nino events, such as in 2005-06 were less severe, but still caused significant damage and displacement.