Flash floods have devastated Ethiopia and Somalia after nearly three years of drought.
According to Crop Monitor, in March 2023, heavy rainfall caused flash flooding that resulted in dozens of fatalities and affected 300,000 individuals in Ethiopia and Somalia. The flooding was particularly damaging due to the region experiencing nearly three years of extreme drought.
The report adds that parts of Ethiopia received 5 to 10 centimeters (2 to 4 inches) more rain than is typical for the period in the first 25 days of March. Although the long rains usually start in Kenya and move north to Ethiopia and Somalia, the rains began concurrently this year, resulting in an incredibly wet final two weeks of March in all three countries, according to climate scientist Caroline Wainwright.
The Shabelle and Juba rivers’ banks in southern Somalia and eastern Ethiopia were overtopped by moderate to heavy rains in the Ethiopian highlands, leading to the destruction of homes, schools, and health facilities, as per the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
A Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer image on NASA’s Terra satellite shows flooding along the Shabelle River in the Somali region of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia and Somalia have faced some of the worst drought conditions in history for nearly three years. Since late 2020, the two countries have experienced five failed rainy seasons that have resulted in the displacement of 1.4 million Somalis and the death of 3.8 million livestock.
The Shabelle-Juba river basins have seen their lowest rainfall totals since 1981 during this time. Wainwright’s research on rainfall variability in East Africa found that the long rains have been getting drier since the mid-1980s until 2010.
The research team’s analysis of climate projections showed that by 2030–2040, the short rains could produce more rainfall than the long rains.
The recent heavy rains swamped over 1,000 hectares of cropland, which poses a challenge to the agricultural economies of Ethiopia and Somalia.
Agriculture employs 67% and 80% of people in these countries, respectively, and most of the farmland in the region is rain-fed. Although rainfall can provide some relief, intense rainfall following extensive drought can wash away crops and topsoil.
Additionally, most of the farms in the area lack the infrastructure to store water for future use. Despite the unexpected early and heavy rains in March, climate models predict that the long rains this year will be drier than usual, and drought conditions are expected to persist.