CROCODILES DEVOUR SOMALI VILLAGERS
Untold disaster struck Somalia?s southern districts last November as the Juba and shabelle rivers burst their banks following days of torrential rainfall. The flooding was the worst to hit the region in 40 years. The most affected areas were Bardere, Bu?ale and Belet Huen where nearly half a million people fell victim in some way.
As the flood waters swept in, villagers tried to move to higher ground, but hundreds became stranded without any way to move. Most of them were farmers and livestock herders and did not own boats. The entire Buuale town was cut off as water flowed in from different directions. The resulting flooding brought in a wave of crocodiles which simply floated into the town in the flood.
Thousands of people have died or disappeared so far. At the height of the flooding in Buuale, five children were attacked by crocodiles in 24-hours, and three families drowned when they fell into the flood waters from trees where they had spent 10-days. Water pythons, some four-metres long, fled into the trees to seek refuge from rising waters. Flood victims lived in appalling conditions, clinging to patches of high ground, to roofs of huts, and even perched in tree branches for as long as two weeks without food or warmth.
On high ground along the river, groups of stranded villagers waved white flags at overflying airplanes. At the leper colony at Jilib, north of Kismayu, half the lepers fled into acacia thorn trees for a week. In the muddy brown waters, the bodies of the dead were washed down to the Indian ocean, or eaten by crocodiles or hyenas.
Ironically the flooding followed a period of devastating drought in the same region and, characteristically, this combination is proving very problematic. The floods have destroyed crops of maize, sesame, and vegetables which were ready to be harvested. Since the flooded areas are Somalia?s richest farmland, and the bread basket of the nation, food shortages in other parts of the country have followed and the next planting season does not come until March. The floods have even swamped out Somalis? traditional grain reserves which are normally stored underground. The flooding has clogged wells, silted drinking water, and washed up pit latrines and sewage. And there is water-borne dysentery, and malaria and the threat of cholera.
The flooding in Somalia is only part of a problem in that region of Africa. Heavy rains and flash floods have hit Ethiopia, and Kenya?s north-east and coast provinces have been recently devastated by rains and floods. But the crisis is worst in Somalia, especially as relief efforts were and are still being hampered by a myriad of problems: there is no infrastructure in the country to handle the disaster; Somalia remains without a government to help co-ordinate the rescue effort, following years of debilitating civil war; aid agencies are strapped because they are faced with security problems in this country, and there are severe access problems caused by the flooding.
The aid agencies have however stepped up operations to help the clear-up. They have used every available means - helicopters, boats, trucks and planes - to bring food and supplies to those displaced by the flooding. Helicopters were hired from South Africa, at a cost of nearly two-million dollars a month. These helped to rescue people stranded by high water and to fly supplies into hard-to-reach locations. In addition, the Norwegian military provided 10 boats to help reach flood victims. The helicopters and boats proved to be particularly useful as airstrips are underwater in most of the affected areas. Where possible, however, airplanes flew in rotations of food, shelter material, and medical supplies, landing on the few airstrips not yet submerged.
The UN world food program was also involved, sending truck convoys out from Mogadishu to drop off supplies where possible, before being forced back by washed-out roads. The red cross brought in high-protein biscuits, blankets, and plastic sheeting to about 25-thousand residents of Belet Huen, camped out after their homes were destroyed. In all, the aid agencies say that they would need about 10-million dollars to assist the victims.
Observers fears the flood waters from the two rivers could merge and create a vast inland sea. If this happens, then a vast inland river would be created, causing untold damage over a much larger part of the country. At the moment, the damage is bad enough, with about one million people, between the two rivers, indirectly affected, more than 200-thousand displaced and thousands killed by drowning, reptile attacks, starvation and disease.