By converting early warnings into fast, smart and well-targeted early actions, FAO Somalia has seen a huge benefit being delivered. Thousands of acres of cropland have been spared flooding, the loss of millions of dollars worth of food has been prevented and farmers have been protected from losing their livelihoods.
When climatologists began predicting that the current El Niño could surpass that of 1997-1998 – currently the worst on record – FAO Somalia acted swiftly to prevent a likely crisis from developing into an emergency. An El Niño Preparedness and Early Response Plan was drawn up in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and local NGO partners. It was rapidly put in motion thanks to timely and flexible funding, notably from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development.
“The return on the investment is strikingly high,” says Richard Trenchard, the FAO Somalia Representative. “Very high resolution satellite images are telling us that recent repairs by FAO and the government to riverbank breakages along the Shebelle River have been very effective. We can see this by comparing historical information that shows us that irrigated farmland - which has flooded in the past - has been protected and planted, even though the rainfall this season has been heavier. The land spared can produce around 23 thousand metric tonnes of maize – worth over USD 6.5 million. It’s a huge amount – enough to feed 2 million people for a month. If the land had flooded, the damage and replacement costs would have been even higher of course.”
FAO Somalia adopted a broad-spectrum preparedness response, combining the infrastructure work with flood warnings, providing asset protection materials and supporting livestock health. One quick, direct action was the distribution of nearly 150 000 polypropylene bags and 29 000 tarpaulin sheets to protect seeds and grain. Financial support to 3 000 families was also given at a crucial time by employing members on prevention initiatives for cash payments. Some of them helped fill 200 000 sandbags – provided by the government of the United States of America – which were another important flood defense. The USA also allowed FAO the flexibility to reprogramme its donor funding.
“We had to be fast and focused in our response to the early warnings,” says Richard Trenchard. “The last severe El Niño left large parts of southern Somalia underwater, 2 000 dead and the country suffering a very damaging livestock export because of animal disease. We couldn’t allow that to happen again and to risk losing the humanitarian and development gains made since the 2011 famine, which killed over a quarter of a million Somalis. We already have over 1 million people suffering severe food insecurity and the threatened area is the country’s most important crop producing area.”
Communities also benefitted from forecasts and warnings as a result of the increased monitoring of rainfall through FAO’s Somalia Water and Land Information Management programme (SWALIM). An SMS alert scheme sent out almost 9 000 warnings to people living along the Juba and Shabelle Rivers to alert them of impending flood risks. This system was also used to warn fishermen in Puntland and Somaliland of two strong cyclones 36 hours before they made landfall.
In addition, more than 40 community-based information sessions were held, focusing on the threat of animal diseases and posters and leaflets were distributed. An FAO programme will strategically preposition control and treatment kits as another element in its broad-spectrum intervention - 65% of Somalis support themselves through their livestock.
Early actions guided by early warnings have shown themselves to be an extremely cost-effective strategy in Somalia. They not only reduce humanitarian needs and spending but also build resilience by putting skills and systems in place for the future. Strong investment is the key – preparedness has shown it works. The need now is to fund and build on this success for longer-term benefits.