Contents - Previous - Next


Somalia, with a total area of 637 660 km has the longest coastline in Africa: in the north on the Gulf of Aden, and in the east on the Indian Ocean. The cultivable area was estimated at about 8 million ha in 1985, or 13% of the total area, and the cultivated area at about 980 000 ha, or 1.5% of the total area and 12% of the cultivable area.

Population in Somalia is estimated at about 9 million (1994), of which 64% is rural. Average population density is about 14 persons/km. The annual demographic growth rate is al demographic growth rate is approximately 3.1 %. Agronomy is the approximately 3.1 %. Agronomy is the second traditional occupation for most Somalis, after nomadic livestock grazing, and accounted for about 11 % of the country's GDP in the period 1970-1986.

Climate and water resources

The climate of Somalia is of the arid to semi-arid type, with annual rainfall of less than 250 mm in the north, about 400 mm in the south' and 700 mm/Year in the southwest. On average, the country receives about 250 mm/year of rainfall. Rainfall distribution is bimodal. It falls mostly in the gu (mid-April to June) and the der (October to December) seasons. The country is regularly subject to periods of drought.

Water resources in Somalia are dominated by surface water. Along the Gulf of Aden, a mountainous zone with rugged relief is subject to torrential flows, causing considerable erosion. The land slopes down towards the south, and the watercourses which flow southwards peter out in the sands of the desert. The rest of the country consists of a plateau, which is crossed by the two main rivers of Somalia, the Juba and the Shebelle, originating from the Ethiopian plateau and draining in a southeast direction towards the Indian Ocean. Contribution to river flow from inside Somalia is not significant and occurs only during heavy rainfall. Flows in the lower reaches of the two rivers decrease considerably as a result of infiltration, overbank spillage, evaporation and water abstraction. The total internally produced water resources are estimated at 6 km/year, the incoming surface water resources at 7.5 km/year.

Basic statistics and population

Area of the country 1992 63 766 000 ha
Cultivable land 1985 8 150 000 ha
Cultivated land 1984 980 000 ha
Total population 1994 9 077 000 inhab.
Population density 1994 14 inhab./km
Rural population 1990 64 %
Water supply coverage    
Urban population 1990 50 %
Rural population 1990 29 %


Water balance

Water resources:      
Average precipitation   253 mm/yr
    161.3 km/yr
Internal renewable water resources - total   6.0 km/yr
Internal renewable water resources - per caput 1994 661 m/yr
Global renewable water resources   13.5 km/yr
Dependency ratio   55.6 %
Total dam capacity   - km
De-salinated water 1990 0.1 10 6 m/yr
Water withdrawal:      
- Agricultural 1987 785.7 10 6 m/yr
- Domestic 1987 24.3 10 6 m/yr
- Industrial 1987 0 10 6 m/yr
Total   810.0 10 6 m/yr
per caput 1987 99 m/yr
as a % of internal renewable water resources   13.5 %
Other withdrawal   - 10 6 m/yr
Produced   - 10 6 m/yr
Treated   - 10 6 m/yr
Re-used treated wastewater   - 10 6 m/yr

Irrigation and drainage

Irrigation potential 1985 240 000 ha
1. Full or partial control Irrigation: equipped area 1984 50 000 ha
- surface irrigation   - ha
- sprinkler irrigation   - ha
- micro-irrigation   - ha
% of area irrigated from groundwater   - %
% of area irrigated from surface water   - %
% of equipped area actually irrigated   - %
2. Spate irrigation area 1984 150 000 ha
3. Equipped wetland and inland valley bottoms   - ha
4. Other cultivated wetland and inland valley bottoms   - ha
5. Flood recession cropping area   - ha
Total water managed area (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5) 1984 200 000 ha
- as a percentage of cultivated area 1984 20.4 %
- increase over last 10 years   - %
- power irrigated area as % of water managed area   - %
Full or partial control schemes: Criteria      
Large schemes > - ha 1984 25 000 ha
Medium schemes 1984 0 ha
Small schemes < - ha 1984 25 000 ha
Total number of households in irrigation 1984 33 750  
Irrigated crops:      
Total irrigated grain production 1984 150 000 t
as a % of total grain production 1984 30 %
Harvested crops under irrigation   - ha
- maize 1984 150 000 ha
- sugar cane 1984 9 800 ha
- bananas 1984 3 000 ha
- rice 1984 1 300 ha
-   - ha
Drainage - Environment:      
Drained area   - ha
as a % of cultivated area   - %
Flood-protected area   - ha
Area salinized by irrigation   - ha

There is no dam on the Shebelle river within Somalia, but off-stream storage exists at Jowhar (200 million m), upstream from the greater part of the irrigated lands and downstream from the Jowhar Sugar Estate. A second off-stream storage reservoir, which would store 130-200 million m, is proposed at Duduble, upstream of Jowhar. Another proposed dam is the Baardhere dam on the Juba, primarily for hydropower, but which should also provide maximum water control and storage for the Juba Valley irrigation projects.

The contribution of other drainage basins to surface water is generally insignificant. They normally consist of occasional runoff in seasonal watercourses.

Groundwater potential is limited because of the limited potential for recharge. In the northern region, some subsurface flows in wadis are tapped for small (1-25 ha) irrigated farms. However, studies required for exploration of groundwater are still needed.

Total water withdrawal was estimated at 0.81 km in 1987 (Figure 1). Agricultural water withdrawal, about 0.79 km is mainly for the full or partial control irrigation schemes.


Despite of the importance of irrigation for the main cash crops in Somalia, e.g., bananas and sugar cane, irrigation and drainage systems development is very poor. In the main irrigated area in the Juba and Shebelle Valleys, there is no system of water allocation and management and a salinity problem exists. Irrigation potential is estimated at 240 000 ha. In 1984, the Total water managed area was about 200 000 ha. of which only 50 000 ha had reasonably controlled irrigation, the rest being spate irrigation, entirely for maize production (Figure 2).

Full or partial control irrigation schemes consist of about half traditional, small-scale schemes and half medium and large private and state schemes (Figure 3), with irrigated farms supporting some 135 000 people. Irrigation is practiced mostly along the Juba and Shebelle Rivers. For irrigation water management and drainage, services are almost non-existent. The lack of an effective water authority or management system is one reason for the low (20-25%) irrigation efficiency and deteriorating performance. Farmers, individually or in groups, abstract water from rivers or canals regardless of crop rotation or crop water needs. Water use is governed by proximity to the distribution outlet and location upstream.

FIGURE 1: Water withdrawal (total: 0.81 km in 1987)

FIGURE 2: Distribution of the water managed areas (1984)

FIGURE 3: Typology of full or partial control irrigation schemes

The major irrigated crops (Figure 4) are maize (spate), sugar cane (mainly state farms) and bananas (mainly private farms). Official statistics show that, for the period 1970-1986, a slight decrease in area and a static yield for bananas, while there was an increase in area and considerable drop in yield for sugar cane. This can be attributed mainly to the increasing drainage problems and soil salinity at the Jowhar sugar estate on the Shebelle river. Regarding maize, an important irrigated and rainfed crop, production increased sharply due to the wide expansion of planted area (from 102 000 ha in 1971 to 350 000 ha in 1985), while yields remained low. In irrigated areas, maize yields remained low because of the inefficient irrigation system, limited availability of research, the absence of higher yielding varieties, and shortage of inputs.


The main institution in charge of water resources management and development in Somalia is the Ministry of Mineral and Water Resources (MMWR), and its National Water Centre (NWC). The Water Development Agency (WDA) is responsible for operations exploiting groundwater resources for domestic water supply.


A study carried out by the World Bank in 1987 outlined a proposed strategy to be followed for the development of irrigation, drainage and water management systems. In the short term, the plan included: rehabilitation of the existing systems; completion of the Water Master Plan for the Shebelle and Juba Rivers; registration of all irrigated farms within a cadastral system; allocation of legal water rights, and management of water allocation system; development of an effective system of water charges; gradual transfer of operation and maintenance responsibility to the holders of water rights; and incentives for adaptive research.

In the long term, the construction of the Duduble reservoir for the control of the Shebelle river, and the Baardhere dam on Juba river were projected. However, even with the completion of the Duduble reservoir, the water availability would still be limited in quantity and quality due to the salinity problem. Upstream 'return-to-river' drainage might contribute to higher salinity further downstream unless outfall drains to the ocean are constructed, in which case the maximum area in the Shebelle valley would be about 50 000-60 000 ha, if irrigation efficiency is increased to 50%.


Indian Ocean Newsletters. 1985. Productive Sectors of the Economy.

Kammer D. 1989. A brief description of major drainage basins affecting Somalia. National Water Centre, Mogadishu. Field Document No.14. FAO/SOM/85/008. Rome.

World Bank. 1987. Agricultural Sector Survey: Main report and strategy. Report No. 6131-SO. Washington DC.

FIGURE 4: Areas (ha) of major Irrigated crops (1984)

Contents - Previous - Next