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Flooding likely between October and December in eastern Horn of Africa

  • Alert
  • East Africa
  • October 27, 2015
Flooding likely between October and December in eastern Horn of Africa

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  • Summary
  • Situation

  • Summary

    A strong El Niño is ongoing and forecast to continue into 2016, raising the risk of significant flooding in East Africa, including in southern Ethiopia, eastern Kenya, and South-Central Somalia. In past years, these floods and the subsequent reduction of market functioning and income-earning opportunities have led to severe acute food insecurity. This year, the areas of southern Somalia where humanitarian access is most limited are the most vulnerable to acute food insecurity, and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) is possible. Humanitarian and commercial supplies should be prepositioned to allow communities, governments, and humanitarian agencies to respond, even in cases where floods damage infrastructure or cut off road access. In addition, communities in areas likely to flood or be near flooding should be provided with regular updates on the risk of flooding. 


    During 1997, 2002, and 2006, El Niño led to well above-average October to December rains. Episodes of torrential rainfall led to flash floods, river flooding, and lake shore flooding (Figure 1). For example, in October 1997, both the Shabelle and Juba Rivers flooded in southern Somalia. These floods displaced up to 250,000 people, and some areas remained flooded until late January 1998. In some areas only 20 percent of arable land was planted. Overall, national grain production from the Deyr harvest was nearly 45 percent below the five-year average. In Kenya, heavy rains from November 1997 into January 1998 caused flash floods that displaced around 1.5 million people and caused significant crop damage. There was extensive damage to houses and infrastructure. The infrastructure damage cut off many areas from their normal sources of food and areas of trade. Without typical rainy season access to roads, airstrips, and bridges, even the Dadaab refugee camps were cut off from supplies in 1997. In southeastern Ethiopia in late 1997, heavy rains caused extensive flooding in Somali Region, especially around Gode town. These floods displaced 65,000 people and damaged housing and 30,000 hectares of crops. These floods also killed an estimated 12,000 head of livestock.

    A strong El Niño is ongoing this year, and it is forecast to continue into 2016. At the same time, there is a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), which further increases the likelihood of above-average October to December rainfall over the eastern Horn of Africa and in areas in and near the Lake Victoria Basin. Through late October, rainfall has been above average (Figure 2). The Shebelle River has flooded in East and West Imy Woredas in southern Ethiopia and in parts of Beledweyn District in Hiiraan Region and Jowhar District in Middle Juba in southern Somalia. The Juba River has also already flooded part of Jamaame District in Lower Juba in southern Somalia. Localized flash floods have been reported in Baydhabo District in Bay Region in southern Somalia. The heaviest rainfall typically occurs in November and early December, and given the El Niño, the rains may extend into January.

    In southern Somalia, flooding is likely along the Shabelle and Juba Rivers, especially in Middle Juba and Middle Shabelle. After the floods, poor households will be unable to earn income from agricultural labor. The poor in these areas have few assets such as livestock, unlike other areas of Somalia, and with expected spikes in prices and lack of income, the poor would quickly move into Emergency (IPC Phase 4) between October and January. Not much response would be expected due to the highly limited humanitarian access to these areas. Food access would likely increase once the flood waters receded and large landowners started to hire laborers for planting and weeding, likely as late as February. In southeastern Ethiopia, flooding is likely along the Shebelle River, especially in and around Shebelle (formerly Gode) Zone, and along the Genale and Dawa Rivers in Afder and Liben Zones of southern Somali Region. Populations displaced along the rivers will be similarly affected to those in Somalia. However, the highest phase of food insecurity expected is Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as these areas are Stressed (IPC Phase 2) right now, and responses both by communities and agencies providing humanitarian aid are expected to occur. In Kenya, flooding is likely along the Tana River, around Lake Turkana, and in the northeastern lowlands. Trade would likely cease temporarily, leading to very high staple food prices and little access to income from labor. The worst-affected areas may enter Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    The number of people living in flood-prone areas in all three countries has increased over time, so the number of people displaced or otherwise affected could be higher this year than in 1997 or 2006. There is also risk of flooding in the areas near Lake Victoria and in some lowlands in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania.

    The extent and duration of floods cannot be definitively predicted. However, as the probability of flooding will be particularly high during the heaviest rain in November and December, early warning should be provided to people living in flood-prone areas to mitigate some of the risks to their food stocks, livestock, and other assets. Governments, humanitarian agencies, and communities should prepare to respond. Prepositioning relief supplies, as transportation may be difficult after floods, is one measure that could be especially effective in improving response. 

    Figures Figure 1. 2006 floods in eastern Horn of Africa

    Figure 1

    Figure 1. 2006 floods in eastern Horn of Africa

    Source: Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Climate Prediction and Appli…

    Figure 2. October 1-25, 2015 rainfall as percentile of 1981-2010, African Rainfall Climatology (ARC2)

    Figure 2

    Figure 2. October 1-25, 2015 rainfall as percentile of 1981-2010, African Rainfall Climatology (ARC2)

    Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)/Climate Prediction Cente…

    FEWS NET will publish an Alert to highlight a current or anticipated shock expected to drive a sharp deterioration in food security, such that a humanitarian food assistance response is imminently needed.

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