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UNHCR: Somalia floods force tens of thousands to flee homes amid coronavirus threat

Somalia is fighting the coronavirus [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 May, 2020

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Tens of thousands of Somali civilians have left the safety of their homes as a result of heavy floods in the region.

Heavy flooding, conflict, a crippling economy and the continued threat of coronavirus have combined to make a deadly mix in Somalia, threatening the safety of Somalia’s 2.6 million internally displaced people.

In south and central Somalia, flash floods and the beginnings of river flooding caused by the seasonal Gu Rains, the monsoons which hit Somalia every year, have already displaced an estimated 90,000 people.

More people are expected to be displaced, worsening the humanitarian crisis, according to a report by UNHCR.

Swarms of desert locusts, the most destructive migratory insect in the world, threaten to decimate crop yields and cause widespread food shortages after the Gu rains end.

Earlier this week, the UNHCR and the government of Somalia airlifted emergency assistance, including jerrycans, soap, blankets, sleeping mats, kitchen sets and plastic sheets, to help over 8,000 people in Baidoa, Bardheere and Qardho.

A second airlift delivering aid in Qardho, Bardheere, Beletweyn, and Berdale is set to take place as early as today, with the UNHCR’s aid expected to reach a total 37,000 individuals.

Last month Somalia reported its first death of a patient suffering from Covid-19 and also said transmission was occurring among people who had no history of foreign travel.

Though the Horn of Africa country has officially confirmed 12 positive cases, Wednesday's announcement highlights concerns that the coronavirus may in fact be more widespread and could soon overwhelm the health system of a country that has been mired in conflict for nearly three decades.

"The first death from Covid-19 was recorded today as a 52-year-old Somali who had the virus died," the health ministry said in a statement at the time.

The statement also documented four new cases among patients "with no record of travelling outside the country".

"The ministry confirms that the spread of the disease has started in the community," it said.

Since then Somalia has reported 928 cases of coronavirus in the country.

There are now over 42,500 confirmed cases of coronavirus across the African continent, with a number of African countries imposing a range of prevention and containment measures against the spread of the pandemic.

Somalia was plunged into chaos following the fall of autocratic President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, and it endures regular attacks from the militant group Al-Shabaab which is linked to Al-Qaeda.

The country is especially vulnerable to Covid-19 because of the effects of the conflict and weak public health infrastructure, the UN Population Fund warned in a statement Tuesday.

"Any interventions to stop the spread of the virus in Somalia will, without a doubt, be deterred by cracks in the health system that will now deepen further unless swift action is taken by Somalia's partners," the body warned.

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