Beledweyne floods: Who is to blame and the way forward

By Abdimalik Abdullahi

The humanitarian crisis in Beledweyne and several other cities in Somalia symbolizes and epitomizes the systematic institutional failure in Somalia.

Beledweyne was placed in peril due to poor strategy and neglect. The neglect sprawls back to decades and the subsequent Somali governments will largely shoulder the blame. The city which is a gateway and a connection between the south and central regions of Somalia has been thoroughly neglected despite facing an imminent danger almost every rainy season.

The news of floods submerging and blockading Beledweyne is no longer strange to many. It’s a thorn in the flesh of the Beledweyne people and a quagmire whose solution is yet to be figured out and achieved. Sadly, no one sincerely worked on solving this annual life-threatening crisis.

Current situation

It’s a shocking and terrifying moment for the people of Beledweyne fleeing from their homes. Sadly, many others are helpless and couldn’t make out of the mess. Many are out in the cold with no decent shelter and food.

Approximately, 90% of the houses in most neighborhoods were submerged by the floods. Almost 11 people who were carried away by the floods are not in sight up to now. Many have passed away including 10 who were in a rescue boat that capsized yesterday. They include senior officials in the regional administration.

The airport is said to have been affected by the floods and in a bad condition. Thousands of families have fled away to escape the increasing water levels. These families face an acute shortage of basic needs as well as vital secondary needs.

Government neglect

First thing first- the largest share of the blame rests squarely on the Somali government since it has grossly failed in prioritizing humanitarian issues. Common sense dictates that the government both at national and member state level should work on improving infrastructure and laying down concrete disaster prevention mechanisms with the help of the international partners.

Despite a number of alerts by humanitarian organizations, the government made no tangible and feasible preparedness efforts aimed at preventing, reducing & alleviating disasters that Somalia is traditionally vulnerable to. The government openly invests the little but crucial resources into political issues when basic live-saving infrastructures are under total neglect.

Weak societal fabric

Almost every other year such cases happen but as a society, we collectively fail to heed the writing on the wall. We tend to be forgetful and not learning any lesson from every disaster that hits us. The role of the private sector whose are is as important as the government has shrunk to only respond to disasters.

The social fabric of the Somali community in its form and shape has also failed to effectively map out survival strategies. Civil society organizations are in a state of slumber, taking a back seat and resorting to press conferences and statements when they had to lobby, create awareness and pressure authorities.

The level of Aid dependency is also shocking and relatively very high despite the country’s rich and abundant natural resources.

The NGO effect

The NGO community takes a share of the blame in that they have more or less failed to roll out sustainable and live-saving projects even though they have relatively huge funds at their disposal. They are accused of using the dynamics of humanitarian disasters as a cash cow instead of working hard in preventing disasters.

Many of the mainstream Somalis believe that the NGOs are working style free, designing projects as they wish and when they want. This culture doesn’t translate and match well with the needs of the communities.

The Elephant in the room – Political culture

Administrations tasked with delivering services and running the daily affairs of their jurisdictions do the exact opposite of that. Most are incompetent but they ride on the backs of poorly informed civilians. It’s in the public domain that most public officers embark on an insatiable looting spree and plundering of resources and aid.  Poor institutions and lack of accountability paint out a scenario where every public official gets scot-free even after dramatically failing to deliver his or her mandate. The future of a whole nation that sadly thrives on zero-sum game politics is doomed. Traditionally, since the founding of the third republic Somalia’s leadership fall short of integrity and values that would have propelled this vulnerable nation towards recovery and standing on its feet again.

Not forgetting how we easily lose momentum and fail to address the root causes. The vicious cycle is in full display lest we heed and we start working towards improving this dire humanitarian situation that comes to pass every year.

Way forward

  1. The government should immediately dispatch relief teams and call its partners to be fully engaged in the emergency efforts. First aid services, food assortments and educating the locals about the best practices will help too.
  2. In the immediate short term, the Beledweyne airport should be upgraded to tarmac standards and its drainage improved. Work should begin on the river banks more so in areas known to experience flash floods. The construction of dams and reservoirs will also help. The administration of Beledweyne should put the issue of floods on top of their strategic work plan and development if any.
  3. Somalia needs to engage in some serious and honest discourse with regards to tackling the issue of floods and mechanisms to deter the risk of floods. Floods can be a blessing in disguise if managed properly. Resources are at our disposal and the technical expertise is also within our reach. This situation primarily calls for serious leadership and commitment. Somalia can borrow best practices from countries like Netherlands and benchmark on the 1953 delta project that have worked wonders and is sustainable.
  4. Somali authorities in both levels of government should shy away from petty politicking and work on improving basic infrastructures and social amenities. A paradigm shift in the political culture of Somalia is mandatory for this weak nation to recuperate and stand on its feet again. Public servants and administrations should leave politics to politicians and serve the civilians. That serves the best interest of the nation, the ordinary citizen and comes along with the peace of mind.
  5. The private sector more so businesses should play their role in rebuilding the infrastructures and strategically mapping their corporate social responsibility. They should focus on sectors that are acutely neglected. On the other hand, the CSOs should shift focus on lobbying for more considerations and investment to be made in the real needs of the society.
  6. The NGO community and international development partners should invest the donor funds in pragmatic projects that directly alleviate the lives of the masses. Development partners need to play a lion’s share in providing critical infrastructure. It is not in order for the NGOs to waste resources in the name of ghost projects that means nothing for the mainstream poor and the disadvantaged. They should invest and take a pivotal role in flood monitoring and mitigation. They should work closely with the government in understanding root causes of recurring disasters, come up with technical recommendations and on top of that invest in the implementation of the disaster prevention programmes.

The author is a researcher and commentator on Somalia’s geopolitics and current affairs. He can be reached via abdimalikanwar@gmail.com or @Abdimaleik on Twitter 

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