Fighting a rare “Super El Niño” in Somalia

WITH THE looming threat of El Niño expected to affect 1.2 million people in Somalia in 2023, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has developed a comprehensive, preparedness, anticipatory action and response plan aimed at mitigating and responding to the impact of the crisis.

This is part of a global FAO anticipatory action and response plan, which targets 25 countries at high risk of El Niño impacts on agricultural livelihoods and food security.

The climate event poses an additional risk to communities already weakened by a historic drought, further undermining food security and resilience to disasters. Plus, the effects of El Niño in Somalia may combine with those of the positive Indian Ocean Dipole phenomenon, resulting in a rare “Super El Niño” weather event from October to December 2023.

Etienne Peterschmitt, FAO Representative in Somalia, said, “We estimate that 1.2 million people and 1.5 million hectares of productive land are at high risk of flooding in Somalia. There are no excuses for inaction when climate models from global and regional forecasting centres show a strong confidence, more than 90%, of increased rainfall over southern parts of the country due to a concurrence of El Niño conditions and a positive Indian Ocean Dipole phenomenon. This will result in a rare ‘Super El Niño’ weather event from October to December this year. For riverine communities, this above average rainfall can result in flooding that can cause widespread damage to property and hamper critical services such as education, health care and transportation – cutting off critical lifesaving supplies to affected communities.

“A disaster of this magnitude can threaten lives, as well as disrupt agricultural production through the flooding of farmland and crops, leading to increased food insecurity. That’s why we’re working now, in close collaboration with the Federal Government of Somalia to ramp up early warning and anticipatory action, ahead of time.

“FAO is rapidly scaling up its early warning and anticipatory action activities, aiming to protect one million people. We’re working with the Somalia Disaster Management Agency (SoDMA) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to support coordination of anticipatory action and we’re calling on other actors to take El Niño warnings seriously, working together to prevent loss of life and livelihoods in Somalia.

“Our El Niño mitigation, preparedness and response plan aims to save lives, helping communities and institutions better manage the impact of flooding. The plan responds to four overarching priority needs in riverine communities and surrounding areas, including: 1) improving early warning information; 2) flood defence infrastructure; 3) evacuation planning and support to coordination mechanisms; and 4) the need to safeguard rural livelihoods. To achieve this, we require $11.8 million to protect riverine people living along Juba and Shabelle Rivers where risks are highest. This will build on and complement large-scale cash and livelihood support already identified under our Humanitarian Response Plan for Somalia.

“El Niño is one of several key climate drivers impacting East African weather. Unlike the La Niña event, which brought severe and prolonged drought from 2020 – 2022, El Niño often results in above normal rainfall in the East Africa region. In the last 30 years, the frequency of flood events in the riverine areas of the Juba and Shabelle River basins has tripled, often resulting in human casualties and major economic damage. As recently as May this year, a catastrophic flood along the Shabelle river displaced 250 000 people.

“So, we know what can happen when this type of disaster strikes. Thanks to weather forecasts we have the information; we now need to act. Part of our commitment to anticipatory action in advance of this ‘Super El Niño’ is to partner with governments and local communities, supporting them to take preparedness actions, whether it is prepositioning emergency supplies or educating communities on the upcoming risks. The earlier we act, the more lives we can save.

“With timely support, rural communities in rain-fed areas can replenish water sources and boost food security following five consecutive seasons of historic drought. If managed well, the increased rainfall can lead to improved food and fodder production, as well as creating water harvesting opportunities. To support this, FAO is providing seeds to 7,200 farming families along with extension services and training on how to maximize food production when faced with above normal rainfall conditions. These are households that have not been included in the FAO’s 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan target. A lot of the work is happening through our existing network of agricultural extension workers, and we are expanding. We are also piloting a flood recession farming approach along the Shabelle River. In rural areas, water pans, dams, and other catchments can also fill up, providing better water security for rural families up to the next dry season.

“The time to act is now, and activities are already under way in high-risk areas as we partner with the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation of the Federal Government of Somalia and the federal member states, as well as with SoDMA. We are also liaising with other actors such as the WASH (the National Water Sanitation and Hygiene in Somalia) and Health clusters, under the leadership of SoDMA and in coordination with OCHA, to ramp up anticipatory action and preposition emergency supplies for various disaster scenarios. FAO’s anticipatory action plan for Somalia is currently 55 percent funded. This means that our resource partners have acted swiftly in responding to this appeal – which we are thankful for. This is a positive shift towards more investment in proactive and preventative actions.”


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