S O M A L I A 'S
W O R S T F L O O D I N G
I N Y E A R S
An aerial view of the town of Marere in the Jubba Valley, southern Somalia, affected by the recent floods that have ravaged the region, December 5, 2006.
An aerial view of the flooded Jubba Valley, currently under Islamic Court control, just 30km east of government controlled Baidoa, southern Somalia, December 5, 2006.
Perils of Somali Flood: Hunger and Beasts
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
December 12, 2006
The New York Times
Late Edition - Final
YAGLOO, Somalia, Dec. 5 -- This is a village of growling stomachs and sharp cheekbones.
The people here are surrounded by floodwaters that have drowned their animals, submerged their crops and swept away their homes. They are slowly starving, unable to sustain themselves on unripe fruit and filthy water.
At the faintest hum of an outboard engine, some 200 villagers, essentially the entire mobile population of Yagloo, run to the banks of the swollen Shabelle River with empty baskets and expectant eyes, hoping for powdered milk, a few handfuls of grain, some malaria pills, anything.
''You! You! You!'' they yelled at a passing boat, which unfortunately on this Tuesday morning was carrying only journalists. ''Don't forget us.''
They held up mud-streaked palms and pointed to a darkening sky. More rain was on its way.
The floods here are yet another installment of a nation in crisis. At a time when Somalia seems inexorably close to an all-out war with Ethiopia, with a destructive potential that could dwarf the countless deaths from the last 15 years of anarchy, a deluge has arrived, plunging Somalia's breadbasket underwater, creating the conditions for an extended famine and taking the area's woes to a whole new level.
Experts say this has been the worst flood season in East Africa in 50 years, and hundreds of people have already drowned, starved, succumbed to waterborne diseases like cholera and malaria, or been eaten by crocodiles.
The other day, not far from where Yagloo's children played on the riverbank, a set of unblinking yellow eyes hung just above the surface of the water. ''They are hungry, too,'' said Muhammad Ali Gnani, a local aid worker.
He later pointed out a huge crocodile carcass rotting in the bush, sizzling with flies, that his guards shot after it had eaten a boy. Crocodile attacks have been a problem across East Africa, as the drenching rains have driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and left them exposed in rising river waters teeming with wild animals.
Some people have refused to be rescued, like a group of herders in Ethiopia who were trapped on shrinking pieces of high land. They said they would rather die next to their cattle than live without them. Ethiopia alone has lost approximately 500 people to the rains. Many climatologists blame global warming for the erratic weather, which brought drought last year and left the earth as hard as concrete -- and as impervious. When the rains began to lash down, the water just pooled.
In Yagloo, which is about 30 miles north of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, villagers are stranded on a thin spit of mud between the overflowing Shabelle and the lake where their homes used to be.
The water, which is the creamy brown color of tea with milk, is so deep that in some places all you can see are the pointy tops of straw huts sticking out. A few flip-flops and plastic bags float by. When it starts to pour, people duck under plastic tarps, if they have them, or huddle in shivering groups beneath banana trees. Dinner is typically green bananas or boiled mangos. When it comes time to sleep, families curl up together in soggy blankets.
The other day, two elders sat around talking about a way to persuade God to spare them more rain.
''If only we could sacrifice an animal,'' said Ahmed Mahmoud.
Finishing the thought, Hussein Hassan said, ''But all our animals have drowned. His shoulder blades were so sharp that they nearly poked through the thin, wet shirt clinging to his back.
The floods have already pushed people on the wobbly edge of survival past the point of no return. Yagloo's cornfields, part of Somalia's crucial Shabelle agricultural belt, are marinating in stinking water, which means no crops to eat, much less to sell, next year. In neighboring villages, it is the same, with piles of melons stacked alongside submerged roads, the fruit cracking open with rot and a crust of fuzzy white mold creeping out.
''No doubt about it,'' said Muhammad Fuje, an official with the World Health Organization in Somalia. ''Next year, there will be famine.''
This is not purely a natural disaster. Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, and one result has been a shamelessly neglected infrastructure. That includes a dam near the Shabelle that recently burst, unleashing a cascade that swept through villages and carried off several children in a swirl of brown murkiness.
Few aid agencies have come to the rescue. Southern Somalia's reputation for chaos and bloodshed has scared off most foreign aid workers, leaving the bulk of relief efforts in the hands of a new Islamic administration that is increasingly distracted by the prospects of war with Ethiopia, its larger and more powerful neighbor. After the Islamists came to power in June, Ethiopia stepped up its support of a rival group of Somali leaders in Baidoa, a city farther inland. Recently, the two sides have been building up their armies.
''We're doing our best to help the flood people,'' said Abdulrahim Ali Modei, the Islamic courts information minister. ''But we need some help from God.''
So far it does not appear to have come. The rains started in September. They were supposed to stop by November, the end of a normal rainy season. But this year they are predicted to drum on through January.
All this water has fed a wild beauty along the river. Huge mango trees lean over the water. Herons skim to a landing in the swamps. The light changes dramatically by the minute, shifting between intense sunshine and sudden, stormy darkness, as if a fickle someone controlled the whole sky with a dimmer switch.
At the close of another long, wet day, a little boy with a hard round belly and no pants stood on Yagloo's riverbank fishing with a bare hook.
''The fish nibble,'' said one woman watching him. ''But they don't bite.''
A Somali man contemplated what was recently a maize field, now inundated by the worst flooding in East Africa in 50 years.
The worst flood in 50 years has submerged the village of Yagloo, where a child took shelter under a tarp.
In Buladonka, displaced Somalis lined the banks of the Shabelle River, waiting for aid. Somalia’s anarchy has frightened off most aid groups.