Beletweyne Flood Mapping: a river survey brief



River Shabelle often floods times in the river cities and towns, such as Beletweyne, Bulo Burte, Jowhar, Balcad, Afgoye, Qoryoley, and many other cities and villages azlong its way. However, Beletweyne, which is the largest and most populated city of all the areas which floods affect, has the worst record of flooding in terms of intensity and frequency. Since 2017, the frequency of the floods was almost annual, repeatedly displacing 500,000 people and causing the loss and destruction of property estimated in the millions. 

The outcomes of such events have necessitated the study of the condition of the river inside the city and before the entrance of the city.     

In May 2019, MU carried out a survey to map out the condition of the Beletweyne river channels designed in the 1970s and 80s to relieve the river from overflowing. 

A team consisting of three people, including two volunteers from Hiiraan University led by Dr. Shariff Osman of the Center for Water and Environment, conducted the survey. Some of the channels run throughout the city while some others branch out from the river before its entrance into the city.


The objective of the survey was to find out why the river floods within the city and not before or after the city, and it is possible to temporarily make the river flood outside the city. 

Expected outcomes

The outcome of this survey is to find a solution for the flood problem, until a major intervention and permanent solution, such as building a dam is construed. 


The methodology we used was a walkthrough observation led by local, knowledgeable people who were able to provide the history of the river and its canals. Additionally, we had a camera to take pictures of the condition of the river and the channels. 

Instruments: Sony Cyber-Shot digital camera 

Survey Findings:   

Observation of the geophysical location of the city and the socio-cultural behavior of the city residents has revealed the following outcomes:

  1. Beletweyne is the first city on the way of the river when it crosses from the Ethiopian border with such power and intensity of the water;
  2. The town lies in a big valley surrounded by mountains;
  3. Apart from the river water, the surrounding mountains empty their runoff water into the river over its capacity;
  4. The river was not rehabilitated for decades, and so it lacks the scope to handle even its previous capacity; 
  5. The locals dispose of their garbage into the river as a landfill to reduce the river volume;
  6. Farmers and local residents have blocked the relief canals which pass through their premises;
  7. Some of the channels with mechanical gates need rehabilitation and/or repair;

The outcomes of this survey point out certain realities on the ground, which warrant further studies to point out how much the issues mentioned above can be mitigated and/or avoided. For instance, How many canals are there in total, and how many of them can be rehabilitated or repaired; and how many new channels are required to be excavated to relieve flood pressure from the river.  


The annual flooding of Shebelle River from Baletweyn to Janaale is problematic. Likewise, adapting flood mitigation approaches without acting on counter-flood methods and prevention mechanisms is equally challenging. The solution is to study the topography of the affected towns and cities plus the condition of the river to design a long-term solution. This may include building dams and levees plus excavation of canals for flood protection and reduction. 


Images of the river canals that show negligence and decay

Above picture shows the missing barrage gates and control mechanisms. 

Gates of the canal are totally missing.

Farmers have blocked the relief canal to protect their farms.



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