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Africa

Hundreds feared dead after Somalia cyclone

At least 140 people have died from a tropical cyclone that hit Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region. The government has appealed for international aid but the response has been muted.

epa03947223 A handout picture provided by the African Union-United Nations Information Support Team (AU-UN IST) shows Internally Displaced People, affected by flooding and clan conflict, waiting for a food handout at an AMISOM military camp near the town of Jowhar, Somalia, 12 November 2013. Heavy rains in Somalia, coupled with recent disputes between clans, have resulted in over four thousand Somalis seeking shelter at an African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) military base near the town of Jowhar, with more arriving daily. EPA/TOBIN JONES / AU-UN IST PHOTO / HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

Puntland needs clean water, non-perishable foods, medicines, shelter materials and blankets

Such weather conditions are unprecedented in Somalia. First there was a tropical storm, then days of heavy rain. Temperatures dropped below freezing. In Puntland, on the northeastern coast of Somalia, there was more rain in 24 hours than normally falls in six months. The raging torrent swept away houses and livestock and ruined people's lives.

Abdirzak Haassan from the Puntland government's Disaster Management and Rescue Committee told DW the disaster "has affected more than 250,000 households." He added that 143 people were confirmed dead and more than 150 were unaccounted for.

This photo released by the African Union-United Nations Information Support Team shows an aerial view of flooding in and around Jowhar town in Somalia Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013. Heavy rains in Somalia coupled with recent disputes between clans have resulted in displaced people seeking shelter at an African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) military base near the town of Jowhar, according to AMISOM, while Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon appealed Monday for assistance for those affected. (AP Photo/AU-UN IST, Tobin Jones)

Roads have been cut and some areas are accessible only by air

A million head of livestock had perished because of the cold and the flooding. Disease was spreading, Haassan said. For many people in Puntland, keeping camels, sheep and goats is their only source of income. It is one of the poorest parts of the world and people there suffered from malnutrition even before the crisis.

Haassan said medicines, dry food and shelter were urgently needed. Many areas were inaccessible by road. Some roads had been swept away and bridges had collapsed. The telephone network had also broken down.

It is not only the Puntland government that is finding it impossible to help those hit by the flooding. Katharina Witkowski works for the charity World Vision. "We have dispatched four trucks with relief supplies. But we've heard that they have got stuck and can't proceed any further," she told DW. Fatuma Abdillahi, spokesperson for the International Red Cross in Nairobi, said a colleague in Puntland had to swim from one side of a road to the other. The flooding was so intense that it was impossible to continue the journey by car.

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Puntland has so far escaped the worst of the chaos and civil war that has plagued Somalia over the last 20 years

Perilous conditions

The difficulties facing international aid organizations are compounded by the volatile security situation. Somalia has been enmeshed in civil war for the last 20 years which has turned the country into a favorite haunt for terrorists and pirates. The central government in Mogadishu only exerts authority over a fraction of the country. The disaster area is practically out of reach. The only road leading there passes through districts controlled by the anti-government al-Shabab Islamist militants and other militias.

There is also a militant group active in Puntland with links to al-Shabab. Their goal is to topple the semi-autonomous government in Puntland. It is one of the few provinces in Somalia where public administration functions reasonably well. The semi-autonomous government is not seeking secession from Mogadishu but wide-reaching independence within a federal Somali state Over the last few years it has invested heavily in the struggle against terrorism and piracy. Aid agencies say it has met with success.

Progress with development at risk

Katharina Witkowski from World Vision said the security situation has improved in northern parts of Somalia. "Last year we succeeded in moving away from just delivering emergency aid and have now started projects geared more towards development," she said.

epa03947222 A handout picture provided by the African Union-United Nations Information Support Team (AU-UN IST) shows women and children sleeping in a makeshift hospital erected at an AMISOM military camp to help those affected by recent flooding and clan conflict near Jowhar, Somalia, 12 November 2013. Heavy rains in Somalia, coupled with recent disputes between clans, have resulted in over four thousand Somalis seeking shelter at an African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) military base near the town of Jowhar, with more arriving daily. EPA/TOBIN JONES / AU-UN IST PHOTO / HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

A makeshift hospital at an AMISOM military hospital near Jowhar for victims of flooding

But such progress would now appear in to be jeopardy as the disaster is forcing the aid agencies to focus yet again on delivering emergency aid for the victims of the cyclone. The government of Puntland has asked World Vision for assistance. Abdirzak Haasan said they had appealed for help from the international community, but "the response was muted."

This does not surprise Markus Höhne from the Institute of Anthropology at University of Leipzig, who is doing research on Somalia. He said there is little public interest in the suffering in the country. "Somalia is generally seen as a hopeless case that doesn't affect us any more." The thing only that sparks interest is the terrorism and piracy that originates in Somalia. "The fate of the people who have been hit by disasters, natural or manmade, attracts little attention," he said.

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