Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history

This photo taken Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, shows an aerial view of the flooded Hiran region of central Somalia. (AP)
Updated 14 November 2019

Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history

  • At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks
  • More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding

MOGADISHU, Somalia: Ahmed Sabrie woke up to find his house half-submerged in fast-rising flood waters.

Frightened and confused, he herded his sleepy family members onto the roof of their home in central Somalia as scores of thousands of people in the town, Beledweyne, scrambled for their lives. Clinging to an electric power pylon by the edge of their roof, the family watched as their possessions were washed away.

“I could hear people, perhaps my neighbors, screaming for help but I could only fight for the survival of my family,” the 38-year-old Sabrie, the father of four, recalled.

As one of his children, unfed, wailed the family waited for more than 10 hours before a passing rescue boat spotted them.

Authorities have not yet said how many people died in the Somalia flooding last month, the country’s worst in recent history and the latest reminder that the Horn of Africa nation must prepare for the extremes expected to come with a changing climate.

At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks. Local officials have said at least 22 people in all are presumed dead and that toll could rise.

“This is a catastrophic situation,” Mayor Safiyo Sheikh Ali said. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who visited the town and waded through submerged areas, called the devastation “beyond our capacity” and pleaded for more help from aid groups.

With no proper emergency response plan for natural disasters, local rescuers used rickety wooden dhows to reach trapped people while helicopters provided by the United Nations plucked people from rooftops. African Union and Somali forces have joined the rescue operations and the Somali government airlifted food.

“Many people are still trapped in their submerged houses and we have no capacity and enough equipment to cover all areas,” said Abdirashakur Ahmed, a local official helping to coordinate rescue operations. Hundreds are thought to still be stuck.

With more heavy rains and flash flooding expected, officials warned thousands of displaced people against returning too quickly to their homes.

More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Beledweyne town was the worst affected. Several thousand people were sheltering under trees or in tents.

“Floods have destroyed more than three-quarters of Beledweyne and submerged many surrounding villages,” said Victor Moses, the NRC’s country director.

Aid groups said farms, infrastructure and roads in some areas were destroyed. The destruction of farmland near rivers is expected to contribute to a hunger crisis.

The possibility of further damage from heavy rains in the coming days remains a concern, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Parts of the Lower Juba, Gedo and Bay regions, where IOM has supported displaced populations for years, have been affected. Many displaced people were stranded without food, latrines or shelter.

“In Baidoa, people have moved to high ground where they are in immediate need of support,” said Nasir Arush, the minister for humanitarian and disaster management for South West State.

Survivors like Sabrie now must struggle to rebuild their lives.

“We’re alive, which I am thankful to Allah for, but this flood disaster wreaked havoc on both our livelihoods and households so I see a tough road ahead of us,” he said from a makeshift shelter built on higher ground outside town.


Why India cases are rising to multiple peaks

Updated 44 min 54 sec ago

Why India cases are rising to multiple peaks

  • India has tallied 793,802 infections and more than 21,600 deaths, with cases doubling every three weeks

NEW DELHI: In just three weeks, India went from the world’s sixth worst-affected country by the coronavirus to the third, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. India’s fragile health system was bolstered during a stringent monthslong lockdown but could still be overwhelmed by an exponential rise in infections.
Here is where India stands in its battle against the virus:

Steady climb, multiple peaks
India has tallied 793,802 infections and more than 21,600 deaths, with cases doubling every three weeks. It’s testing more than 250,000 samples daily after months of sluggishness, but experts say this is insufficient for a country of nearly 1.4 billion people.
“This whole thing about the ‘peak’ is a false bogey because we won’t have one peak in India, but a series of peaks,” said Dr. Anant Bhan, a bioethics and global health researcher. He pointed out that the capital of New Delhi and India’s financial capital, Mumbai, had already seen surges, while infections had now begun spreading to smaller cities as governments eased restrictions. The actual toll would be unknown, he said, unless India made testing more accessible.

John Hopkins University graphic

Dubious data
The Health Ministry said Thursday that India was doing “relatively well” managing COVID-19, pointing to 13 deaths per 1 million people, compared to about 400 in the United States and 320 in Brazil. But knowing the actual toll in India is “absolutely impossible” because there is no reporting mechanism in most places for any kind of death, said Dr. Jayaprakash Muliyil, an epidemiologist at the Christian Medical College in Vellore who has been advising the government.
Official data shows 43% of the people who have died from the coronavirus were between the ages of 30 and 60, but research globally indicates that the disease is particularly fatal to the elderly, suggesting to Muliyil that many virus deaths among older Indians “don’t get picked up” or counted in the virus fatality numbers.


“No central coordination”
In India, public health is managed at a state level, and some have managed better than others. The southern state of Kerala, where India’s first three virus cases were reported, has been held up as a model. It isolated patients early, traced and quarantined contacts and tested aggressively. By contrast, Delhi, the state that includes the national capital, has been sharply criticized for failing to anticipate a surge of cases in recent weeks as lockdown measures eased. Patients have died after being turned away from COVID-designated hospitals that said they were at capacity. It led the Home Ministry to intervene and allocate 500 railway cars as makeshift hospital wards.
But as the capital rushes to conjure new beds, officials admit that they’re worried about the lack of trained and experienced health care workers. According to Jishnu Das, a professor of economics at Georgetown University, there is “no central coordination” to move health care staff from one state to another, exposing India’s relative inability to use data to guide policy decisions.
“The one big thing that we’re learning from this pandemic is it takes any cracks in our systems and it drives a chisel to them. So, it’s no longer a crack, it’s a huge chasm,” Das said.

India’s role in global fight
India has seven vaccines in various stages of clinical trial, including one by Bharat Biotech that the Indian Council on Medical Research pledged would have results from human trials by Aug. 15, the country’s Independence Day. The top medical research body quickly backtracked, but regardless of whether India comes out on top in the global race for a vaccine, the country will play a critical role in the world’s inoculation against COVID-19.
The Serum Institute of India in the central Indian city of Pune is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. India makes about 1,000 ventilators and 600,000 personal protective equipment kits per day, according to government think-tank Niti Aayog, making it the second largest kit maker in the world after China.


The economic curve
Although Indian airspace remains closed to commercial airlines from abroad, India’s economy has largely reopened. Consumer activity has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, government data showed, and factory workers who fled cities when India imposed its lockdown March 24 have begun to return, enticed, in some cases, by employers offering free room and board.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has used the health crisis along with a military standoff with China over a disputed border region to rally the country around the idea of a “self-reliant India” whose home-grown industries will emerge stronger. Approval ratings that US pollster Morning Consult estimate at 82% suggest many Indians are with him, even after the hasty lockdown triggered a humanitarian crisis, with thousands of migrant workers fleeing on foot toward their natal villages, and as two top government scientists on the front lines of the coronavirus fight stepping down in recent weeks. With the coronavirus nowhere near abating in India, how Modi will fare as the toll of infections and deaths continues to rise is still unclear.