NAIROBI - Unusually heavy seasonal rains are threatening Somalia with its worst floods in 50 years, while the country teeters on the brink of an all-out war, the UN said yesterday.
As forces loyal to the weak government and those of the powerful Islamist movement ready for battle that many fear could engulf the wider Horn of Africa region, about 50000 Somalis have been displaced by devastating and deadly floods, said the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (Ocha).
"According to technical agencies, Somalia could experience the worst floods in a 20- to 50-year period," the office said.
"Contingency planning for a worst-case scenario of concurrent floods and widespread conflict is ongoing," it said, adding that parts of Islamist-held southern and central Somalia are currently uninhabitable because of flooding.
The town of Beledweyne, about 300km north of Mogadishu has been under water since November 10, forcing 50000 people from their homes, marooning another 15000 and affecting 10000 in nearby villages, it said.
"As the water surge flows downstream, conditions . are expected to get worse," Ocha said.
Witnesses and local officials said that at least 43 people had drowned, including several in Beledweyne, in raging flood waters since late October when torrential downpours first caused rivers to burst their banks.
The bulk of the dead are in the Bardheere, lower Shabelle and Gedo regions, all controlled by the Islamists who seized Mogadishu in June and now hold almost all of southern and central Somalia, the organisation said.
South of Beledweyne, in the Jalalaqsi district, the office said it had reports that 19 villages had been abandoned because of floods, leaving about 1000 families homeless.
Ocha said about 2000ha of cropland and 4000ha of farmland, including pasture, had been destroyed in Jalalaqsi.
In the Islamist-controlled lower and middle Juba regions, south and west of Mogadishu, the office said 40 villages had been completely inundated, but that no casualties had been reported.
Relief efforts have been hampered by flooded roads and the military build-up and complicated further by a ban on flights to and from Somalia imposed by neighbouring Kenya this week, it said.
"An exemption to humanitarian flights has now been made, though a 24-hour clearance is still required," the UN body said.
"Several primary roads remain impassable and flights are in many cases the only possible means of transporting aid supplies."
Somalia, a nation of about 10million people, has lacked any disaster- response mechanism since the country was plunged into chaos after the 1991 ousting of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. - Sapa-AFP