Members of Minnesota's Somali community are rushing to the aid of their homeland as it grapples with heavy rains and floods that have killed nearly 100 people, displaced an estimated 700,000 and ravaged several regions since October.
A newly formed local emergency flood relief committee consisting of faith leaders, elders and community members has been raising money and spreading the word about the dire conditions in the East African nation, which have affected 1.7 million people and pushed the country into a state of emergency.
The committee's goal is to raise $1 million by the end of the year. It's working through the Humanitarian African Relief Organization (HARO), a Minneapolis-based nonprofit.
"Almost every Somali in Minnesota has a relative or a friend living in the areas impacted by the floods," said Abdisamad Nur Bidar, who chairs the committee. "The situation in Somalia has touched me and all the members who are volunteering their time to help our people back home."
The relief committee has already raised at least $60,000, which it's used to buy more than a dozen boats to aid in food delivery and transportation for those living in the affected regions — particularly the southern part of Somalia where heavy rains have caused two main rivers to overflow, Nur Bidar said.
Ali Isse, a member of the relief committee and deputy district director for U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar in Minneapolis, said the congresswoman has been working with agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to draw attention to the situation, which the United Nations has described as "once-in-a-century flooding."
In October, the government of Somalia and U.N. officials delivered financial support and early warning messages to more than 200,000 people in flood-prone regions.
"This is a very urgent and dire situation," Isse said. "We are afraid we might lose a lot more people and a lot of cities because of these devastating floods which have destroyed vital infrastructures like bridges and homes."
According to the Associated Press, thousands in densely populated Beledweyne fled to higher ground near Ethiopia when the Shabelle River burst its banks. The humanitarian group Save the Children estimated that 90% of the city's residents have been forced from their homes.
The Gedo region in southern Somalia also faced extreme flooding when the Juba River overflowed — sweeping away vital bridges, causing the loss of livestock, and displacing scores of people, according to the Somali government.
While Somalia has faced natural disasters in the past, extreme weather events are "becoming more intense, frequent and unpredictable," according to U.N. officials, who blamed the heavier than normal rains on two climatic events: El Niño and the Indian Ocean Dipole phenomenon.
Scientists believe that El Nino, a natural warming of the Pacific Ocean that affects the jet stream and typically happens December through February, has become stronger owing to climate change.
Flash floods have also killed hundreds of people and devastated neighboring countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Burundi, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda, according to the U.N.
Hunger crisis worsens
The devastating flooding came as Somalia was still reeling from its longest and most severe drought on record. Humanitarian agencies have been sounding the alarm as the flooding conditions, forecast to continue through at least early next year, exacerbate the hunger crisis in a nation already pushed to the brink of famine. The U.N. estimates that 4.3 million people — about a quarter of Somalia's population — face crisis-level hunger or worse by the end of the year.
Due to significant funding shortfalls, the World Food Program (WFP) said it's able to provide food assistance to fewer than half of those in need. WFP's funding gap in Somalia is estimated to be about $378 million through April 2024.
The Somali diasporas in and outside of Minnesota have been mobilizing and fundraising on social media. A GoFundMe page to help provide food relief to Somalia has surpassed its $6,000 fundraising goal.
Nur Bidar said the relief committee is in touch with the Somali government and aid agencies, and is working around the clock to prevent further suffering.
"We are using Minnesota as a hub to reach out to all Somalis who are living in other states," he said. "Our goal is to continue the fundraising efforts and to help prevent food shortage and waterborne diseases in Somalia."
To contribute to flood relief, go to harousa.networkforgood.com/projects/213388-somalia-flood-relief-2023/.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.