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Somalia, December 2015: Early warning means quick response to El Niño rains

By Athanas Makundi

© UNICEF Somalia/2015/Makundi
Abdirahaman Ahmed, a logistics officer with UNICEF partner, SOPHA, chlorinates a main supply water tank in Mogadishu to prevent contamination after El Niño rains hit central and southern areas of Somalia.

MOGADISHU, Somalia, December 2015 – Khadijo Amburre Nurre never imagined the day would come when she would have to sleep in a tiny tent with her five children. Silently, she sits cooking outside her patched up makeshift tent in the crowded backstreets of the Somali capital Mogadishu.

Her family were among thousands forced to flee their homes when heavy rains hit south central Somalia destroying homes and property and causing flash flooding and rivers to overflow their banks.

“We lost everything,” says Khadijo sadly remembering their home in Jambalul, Lower Shabelle region. “We don’t have food or clean drinking water and this tent is very cold at night. We are in desperate situation.”

These rains, which were particularly heavy in October and November, were associated with the predicted El Niño phenomenon, which re-occurs every seven to eight years and can have dramatic effects on the weather around the world.

This time, the El Niño rains were predicted early – UNICEF and its partners were able to prepare in advance for its possible effects, particularly for the vulnerable people such as the displaced, women and children.

“We are working on the assumption that between 500,000 and 1 million people could be affected,” says Jean-Michel Delmotte, UNICEF’s Chief of Field Office in Mogadishu. “We expect several months of nutrition and child protection challenges.

“UNICEF partners have been equipped with appropriate supplies which are already prepositioned in the 13 districts that are expected to be affected, he added.”

So far the floods caused by rains inside Somalia and the Ethiopian highlands have affected 140,000 people in Somalia so far.

UNICEF put a comprehensive plan in place, which included dissemination of flood awareness messages through radio, distribution of leaflets in schools and stabilizing riverbanks with sacks and sandbags. Hygiene kits and sanitation kits that had been prepositioned were distributed and preparations made to ensure children’s education continues.

“El Niño flooding programmes have started,” says Abdullahi Jama Hassan, the programmer manager for UNICEF’s partner, the Somali Public Health Professional Association (SOPHPA).

“We have done mass chlorination of water in three districts, where we targeted water supply hubs, shallow wells and water storage tanks in order to avoid contamination. We have also constructed new latrines in schools and health facilities.”

Activities to ensure children stay healthy have been stepped up including the teaching of home hygiene skills to mothers and the supply of micronutrient powder to undernourished children from six months to two years through the Infant and Young Child Feeding Programme.

© UNICEF Somalia/2015/Makundi
Following warnings about heavy El Niño rains - UNICEF and its partners prepositioned emergency supplies at key points to be distributed in areas affected by floods in south and central Somalia.

“This powder contains 15 minerals and vitamins useful to boost children’s immunity, health and energy,” explains Amina Abdiladif Ali – the Community Health Counselor for UNICEF partner, African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN).

“We inform mothers that this powder has zinc, which can stop diarrhoea and there is no need to give any other medicine.”

There were fears that the effects of El Niño, which may not be over yet could have devastating impact on Somalia. However, the preparations for El Niño has shown that early planning and organization has helped to protect the women and children from the worst expectations.

“Based on the El Niño early warning, we started planning in early July,” says Mr. Delmotte, the UNICEF Chief of Field Office. “We are confident that the arrangements we put in place will cover whatever response is needed.”



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