By Abdirizak Mursal Farah
Shabelle and Juba rivers are the only two perennial rivers in Somalia. Both rivers begin in the highlands of Ethiopia and then flow southeast into Somalia. River Shabelle is longer than Juba and flows through several regions of the country including Hiiraan, Middle Shabelle, Lower Shabelle and ends at Daytubako in Lower Juba while Juba River runs through Gedo, Middle Juba, and Lower Juba.
The two rivers are a lifeline for millions of Somalis who utilize the water in their homesteads and farms. The fertile flood plains on rivers Juba and Shabelle have long been heralded as the breadbasket of Somalia. At the height of Siad Barre’s reign, fruits, vegetables, rice, sugarcane, maize were some of the crops that were irrigated on those plains for the supply of both local and foreign markets.
In the past three decades, the flood and irrigation water control infrastructure and management put in place by the ousted central government collapsed due to vandalism and mismanagement causing the menace of flooding to rear its ugly head once again. This comes during times of heavy rains in both the Ethiopian highlands and in Somalia, particularly regions located along the rivers. The ponds, riverbeds, soil, and vegetation cannot absorb all the water from the rain. Water then runs off the land in quantities that cannot be carried within stream channels.
In the recent past, the floods have caused the loss of life, displacement of more than 850,000 people and left a trail of destruction to the tune of millions of dollars in economic damage. Hiiraan region, particularly the town of Beledwein and its environs have been the worst hit by the floods. More than 15 people, including children, have drowned and an estimated 350,000 people were displaced. The flood also damaged a large area of farmland and caused the closure of the town’s two main bridges, the airport, hospitals, and numerous crucial roads, depriving the locals of their basic needs.
In the wake of the devastating floods, Beledwein received donations from NGOs, Turkey, Djibouti and Somali citizens; both local and the diaspora. Many notable politicians including the current President, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo visited the affected area and made a pledge to draft and implement a strategic plan to curb the frequent flooding of the town, the Government also pledged $500,000 in donations to the flood victims.
Nothing has changed in the course of the six months since the President visited Beledwein. The town is on the brink of flooding yet again. The river level at Beledwein has reached bank-full (roughly 8m) in the last three days. Weary of the dangers posed by the overflowing river, the majority of the populace have sort refuge in higher grounds.
Flood Mitigation and Disaster Management in Beledwein.
The recurrent floods and droughts in the country point to the importance of IWRM and the adoption of climate change strategies in Somalia. Viable flood control techniques and management projects must be initiated without delay if we are to stem the tide of these setbacks.
The floodplain cities with their authorities in both Federal Member States and Federal Government are required to understand the seriousness of the matter and think about flood mitigation methods that may be available and affordable.
Some methods of flood control have been practiced since ancient times. These methods comprise planting vegetation to retain extra water, terracing hillsides to slow flow downhill, and the construction of floodways. Other techniques include the construction of levees, dikes, dams, reservoirs or retention ponds to hold extra water during times of flooding.
The man-made channels to divert floodwater or floodways and dam construction are two suitable methods that can prevent floods in Beledwein. In addition, the two methods can restore more water for irrigation, domestic, and livestock use during the dry seasons. Before the civil war, the town had two diversion channels that were used to mitigate and control the impacts of a flood by offering an alternative route for excess water. Flood water is diverted down this channel in rainy seasons when the river water levels are high. These channels are no longer in use and need to be rehabilitated and reconstructed.
The dam construction is another alternative for flood mitigation in cities like Beledwein and Bardhere. The dam is a constructed barrier built across rivers to detain water eventually creating a lake or a reservoir, the design of the Dam depends on the local topography and the hydrological system. Prior to building the dam, it is important to carry out a geological survey in order to locate the most suitable location.
Dams are capable of holding back water when needed and releasing water into spillways when levels have become too high. Before the rainy or wet seasons, the operators of a dam will lower the level of water in the reservoir to make room for anticipated precipitation. As a result, the full effects of a flood are mitigated further protecting downstream areas.
Apart from flood mitigation, the dam will provide a range of economic, environmental, and social benefits, including recreation, waste management, river navigation, tourism, forestry and wildlife habitat. More importantly, the dam will create reservoirs, it will supply water for domestic, agricutural and industrial use in the Cities and surrounding areas. The drought that devastates the rural population during the dry season will also be cushioned.
Recommendation: Preparation and the implementation of these projects
The Federal Government in collaboration with the Federal Member States and with the help of international donor agencies and the business community-both local and the Diaspora- should initiate the above projects. Through the leadership of the office of the prime minister, a task team should be set up that draws up a framework for the execution of the above-mentioned projects.
The task team will be required to come up with a practical timeframe for the project’s life cycle from conception to closure. There is no time to spare. Prolonging the completion of the projet will only add to the suffering of the people.
The Auditor-General has to – without fear, favour or prejudice – fully investigate the selected ministries involved in this project and report any irregularities and irresponsibilities.
Both houses of the Federal Parliament particularly those from Hirshabelle state have to monitor these projects timely and carry out their oversight work accordingly, as mandated. The parliament has to follow up on the lifecycle of the projects and hold selected ministers accountable for the budgets allocated to their respective Ministries related to these projects.
The Federal Member States have to be at the forefront in the fight against floods and droughts, especially those located along the alluvial plains of the two rivers. They ought to come up with sustainable homegrown solutions to tackle flooding, propose and follow up with the Federal Government. They also have to put emergency measures in place to be rolled out once the risk of flooding is perceived.
As I am preparing this article, the Ethiopian highlands, the source of both the Juba and Shabelle Rivers, has received moderate to heavy rains over the last couple of weeks. The Gu’ rains have also started in many regions of the country and several towns have already been inundated including Qardho, Bardheere, a minor section of Beledwein, and a number Towns along the rivers.
This calls for the establishment of a National Metrological Authority to provide early warnings on adverse weather conditions to residents and authorities of the high-risk areas to mitigate damages associated with floods and other climate-related hazards.
The Federal Government should walk the talk and deliver on the promises that the president made to the suffering locals of Beledwein. On Thursday, the Beledwein Flood Protection Committee led by Haji Dhagahow enquired about the $ 500,000 relief package pledged in late 2019. However, the office of the prime minister is yet to deliver on the commitment made by his Government. The locals feel deceived and deserted.
Whilst in most parts of the world, masses are grappling with the socio-economic impact of COVID-19, Somali nationals on the floodplains are confronted by a greater calamity; floods. With almost no hope in their state officials, they only desire that the Almighty hears their silent cries during this blessed month of Ramadhan.