At least 200,000 children are among more than half a million people affected by flooding in Somalia, the United Nations children agency said, calling for decisive action to help those at risk of malnutrition and disease outbreak.
In a statement on Tuesday, UNICEF said thousands of families are living in makeshift camps or in the open and are in dire need of clean water, sanitation, safe shelter, health and food supplies.
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The UN humanitarian agency said on Wednesday heavy rains have affected 547,000 people in Somalia and displaced 370,000 people.
“Children are very vulnerable in times of emergency,” said UNICEF Somalia Representative Werner Schultink.
“If we do not act decisively, the impact of these floods will be felt in Somalia long after the water levels recede,” he added.
The rains and flooding have destroyed infrastructure and livelihoods in the Horn of Africa nation, according to the UN, which on Monday began delivering vital food packages and supplies to thousands of displaced people.
In the town of Beledweyne, in central Somalia, a river overflowed and at least 10 people died when a boat capsized trying to rescue stranded residents, locals said.
Schools have been forced to shut their doors due to flooding, while the rising waters also caused damage to buildings and widespread disruption.
Education officials said students and teachers have been forced to flee to higher ground where aid agencies are providing life-saving assistance, including shelter, to a quarter of a million people.
“A total of 86 schools have been affected by the floods. Around 700 teachers are also out of work as locals flee to higher ground due to floods in Beledweyne City and surrounding regions,” said Mohamed Osman Elmi, education head of Hiran region.
It is the second flood to affect Beledweyne in less than a year. In 2018, floods forced the Ministry of Education to postpone national examinations.
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo toured the hardest-hit areas earlier this week and promised government support to end recurrent floods such as those that have hit Beledweyne.
”Last year, we witnessed a similar tragedy, we hope this will be the last kind of floods witnessed in Beledweyne. We will work with neighbouring countries and all relevant authorities to mitigate the crisis and ensure our people don’t have to suffer again,” the president said.
Weeks of flooding have destroyed basic infrastructure in the city. Roads have been turned into rivers and farmlands have been destroyed.
The threat of waterborne diseases remains the biggest fear for aid agencies and local authorities. Humanitarian aid has arrived in the town from aid agencies, government and local communities.
East Africa has been experiencing torrential rains which have been exacerbated by a weather phenomenon known as the Indian Ocean Dipole.
This is the Indian Ocean equivalent of the Pacific Ocean-based El Nino. It is currently at its strongest since 2006, according to the regional trade bloc of eight East African nations known as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.