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1961: RAF flies aid to flood-stricken Somalia

The Royal Air Force has begun airlifts to drop food supplies to flood victims in Somalia.

The first Beverly transport aircraft arrived in Mogadishu from Nairobi with over six tons of maize, as well as 2,000 sacks for distribution. Planes are expected to arrive daily from now on with more supplies.

The emergency aid was loaded onto RAF Valettas, along with medical provisions.

The planes flew through heavy rainstorms before dropping the first of the aid over the Lower Juba province, one of those worst affected by the flooding.


"The extent of the disaster is far beyond the resources of the Somali government and people"

Dr Abdi Rashid Shirmarke, Prime Minister

It is thought that over 200 people have drowned and about 230 villages have been destroyed in this area alone. Unconfirmed reports put the number of homeless at 300,000.

Outbreaks of malaria, dysentery, rheumatic fever and influenza have been reported in a number of places. Somalia's public health adviser, Mohammed Naqi, warned of a possible typhoid epidemic.

The worst of the flooding was caused when the two main rivers, the Shabelle and the Juba, broke their banks and merged in a vast flood plain 12 km wide.

The torrent of water submerged vast tracts of land, tore out communications, marooned towns and villages, destroyed homes and livestock, and ruined banana plantations.

Local authorities are said to be trying to deliver relief supplies with 12 motorised pontoons - the only transport they have which can reach the stricken areas.

Throughout the country, roads and airstrips are under water, making the task of moving food and medical supplies almost impossible.

The Prime Minister, Dr Abdi Rashid Shirmarke, made a desperate plea for help at a news conference six days ago.

He said nearly all Somalia's food crops have been destroyed, and said food will have to be found for about 600,000 people for eight months, until the next harvest.

"Reports indicate that the extent of the disaster is far beyond the resources of the Somali government and people," he added.

Offers of help have been pouring in ever since.

The government of the Sudan has offered food and medical supplies, and Kenya has donated 5,000 tons of maize and 2,000 tons of sugar from its own supplies.

The Rhodesian Air Force has contributed planes, while the United States Air Force is also joining in the relief work.

In Context
British and American aircraft were grounded shortly after beginning the famine relief drops, due to a critical shortage of aviation fuel.

Relief operations were re-started a few days later, by which time thousands in the flooded areas were enduring appalling conditions.

Somalia suffered catastrophic floods once again in 1997 and 1998, when much of eastern Africa was under water.

About 2,000 people are thought to have died in Somalia, while 122,000 mainly Somali refugees fled their camps in north-eastern Kenya.

By the following summer, the United Nations had to distribute emergency aid after a disastrously poor crop harvest.

The situation was made worse by continued fighting between rival militia in southern Somalia, displacing thousands of families and leaving fields abandoned.

Somalia had no central government since the ousting of the late dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

In 2004, the main warlords and politicians signed a deal to set up a new parliament, which subsequently appointed a new president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed.


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