Floods ravage Horn of Africa

The government of neighbouring Somalia, a country which is on the brink of war, appealed for emergency international aid to help 1.5 million people affected by flooding.

Residents of flood-hit areas of Somalia reported that nine people had been devoured by crocodiles unleashed by raging waters, bringing the death toll from three weeks of flooding to at least 52.

In Kenya, authorities said the death toll had risen to at least 28 with the drowning of five more people in the east, badly hit along with the country’s northern and coastal areas.

The five — two adults and three students — drowned in Mwingi district after their vehicle was swept away when a river burst its banks, local police chief Stanley Mwita said.

At least 20 people were reported missing in the nearby town of Garissa, about 300 kilometres least of the capital, which was submerged by the floods and was still underwater, officials said.

At least 150,000 people, including nearly 80,000 desperate refugees from Somalia in camps in northeast Kenya, have been forced from their homes by the floods, according to the United Nations and local disaster relief groups.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) began on Sunday airlifting emergency supplies to the affected Somalis at the Dadaab refugee camp complex, about 470 kilometres northeast of Nairobi.

Three flights were delivering an initial batch of 25,000 tarpaulins, health kits and 7.2 tonnes of fuel to Dadaab, which has been almost entirely cut off by the floods.

“If the rains continue, we are then facing a humanitarian crisis,” UNHCR spokesman Emmanuel Nyabera told AFP, adding that the agency was negotiating with the Kenyan government to move the refugees to higher ground.

At least 100 tonnes of emergency food supplies have been bogged down in Kenya as roads become impassable, according to UN agencies.

Meanwhile, the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) started distributing supplies to some 8,000 newly displaced people, forced from their homes when the River Tana broke its banks and swept through villages and farmlands on the coast.

“With help from the government, we are hurrying to deliver emergency assistance to 8,000 people who were displaced along the River Tana,” KRCS head of disaster response Abdi Ahmed told AFP.

The agency appealed on Friday for $US7.9 million ($A10.3 million) to assist 300,000 people expected to be affected by the floods in the next three months.

The same day, the UN warned that a dam on the Tana was on the brink of bursting, raising the possibility of controlled releases of water that could hit thousands more who live along its banks.

It also warned that the situation in Kenya and Somalia as well as Ethiopia — all of which were hit by a scorching drought earlier this year – is expected to worsen in the coming weeks with some 1.5 to 1.8 million affected.

The onset of rains has compounded problems across the Horn of Africa already brought by the drought as parched soil in the worst-affected areas is unable to absorb the water, officials say.

And, the few crops that survived the drought are being destroyed by flooding, according to the UN World Food Programme.

The floods began in late October, have destroyed major stretches of road, cut off villages and refugee camps, disrupted food supplies, and raised the threat of waterborne disease in the three countries.

The United Nations says the flooding could be the worst in 50 years to hit Somalia, which has had no functioning central authority or coordinated disaster response mechanisms since it was plunged into anarchy in 1991.

Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, whose administration is also girding for war with a powerful Islamist movement, appealed Sunday for urgent aid to avert a humanitarian catastrophe, spokesman Abdurahman Mohamed Nur Dinari said.

“Without that help, we are facing a disaster where many people will die, not only of floods, but also of disease and food shortages,” he told AFP in Baidoa, the government’s temporary seat about 250 kilometres northwest of Mogadishu.