Early Warning: El Niño threatens Somalia’s Humanitarian Gains

Somalia remains in a state of prolonged crisis which increases the impact of the challenging climatic conditions, amidst inadequate coping strategies and development assistance. The likely impacts of the 2015-16 El Niño events may be severe in areas characterized by some of the worst humanitarian and human development indicators in the world. It is foreseen that Somalia could experience flooding in southern and central regions and Puntland region, as well as exacerbated drought conditions in northern regions as early as end of September 2015 to December 2015.The effects of the El Niño phenomenon could extend several months into 2016.According to the International Research Institute (IRI), El Niño conditions in the east-central Pacific have intensified to moderate strength. There is now a greater than 85% probability of occurrence of El Niño in the October-December (Deyr) rainfall season through 2016.Much higher than normal rains in the last third of 2015, resulting from the El Niño climate phenomenon, could reverse many of the humanitarian and development gains made in southern parts of Somalia since the Horn of Africa nation was affected by one of the worst famines in 2011.


El Niño early warning global overview. Credit: UN Photo (FAO).


The El Niño phenomenon is looming over the Horn of Africa including Somalia, with heavy rainfall anticipated to start as early as mid-September.El Niño is characterized by prolonged warming of the Pacific Ocean surface, leading to heavier rainfall in most parts of the Greater Horn of Africa and elsewhere, while also leading to less rainfall in some areas.El Niño, a warming of sea-surface temperature in the Pacific Ocean, occurs every few years and is associated with very heavy rainfall in East Africa and drought-like conditions in other parts of the region.The El Niño in 1997-8 was the worst in recent memory. It caused massive flooding along the Jubba and Shabelle rivers in Somalia, led to major animal disease outbreaks, which contributed to a long-lasting export ban in 1999 resulting from rift valley fever, an animal disease that is particularly prone to flooding and prolonged wet conditions. With over 65 percent of the Somali population depending on livestock, the sector is likely to be very badly hit. Food production, mostly along Jubba and Shabelle rivers, is also likely to be dramatically affected, at least in the short-term. Other El Niño events, such as in 2005-06, were less severe, but still caused significant damage and displacement.


Flood prone Areas in south and central Somalia