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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. It is bordered by Kenya in the south, by Ethiopia in the east and by Djibouti in the north-east.

The cultivable area was estimated at about 8 million ha in 1985, or 13% of the total area. In 1984, it was estimated that about 980 000 ha were cultivated with annual crops, i.e. 12% of the cultivable area. About 18 000 ha consisted of permanent crops in 1993.

The total population is about 9.25 million (1995), of which 74% is rural. Average population density is about 15 inhabitants/km. The annual demographic growth rate is approximately 3.1 %. Agriculture is the second traditional occupation for most Somalis, after nomadic livestock grazing. Some 70% of the working population was engaged in agriculture in 1991 and this sector accounted for 65% of the country's GDP, including forestry and fisheries. Bananas are the principal cash crop, accounting for 40.3 % of export earnings in 1988.

TABLE 1 - Basic statistics and population

Physical areas:
Area of the country 1995 63 766 000 ha
Cultivable area 1985 8 150 000 ha
Cultivated area 1984 998 000 ha
- annual crops 1984 980 000 ha
- permanent crops 1993 18 000 ha
Total population 1995 9 250 000 inhabitants
Population density 1995 15 inhab./km
Rural population 1995 74 %
Water supply coverage:
Urban population 1990 50 %
Rural population 1990 29 %



The climate of Somalia is of the arid to semi-arid type, with an average annual temperature of 27C. It is hotter and drier in the interior and on the Gulf of Aden, but cooler on the Indian Ocean Coast. Annual rainfall is less than 250 mm in the north, about 400 mm in the south, and 700 mm in the south-west. On average, the country receives 253 mm of rainfall per year. Rainfall distribution is bi-modal. 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

The total internally produced water resources are estimated at 6 km/year, the incoming surface water resources at 9.74 km/year. Water resources in Somalia are dominated by surface water.

TABLE 2 - Water: sources and use

Renewable water resources:
Average precipitation   253 mm/yr
    161.3 km/yr
Internal renewable water resources   6.0 km/yr
Total (actual) renewable water resources 1995 15.74 km/yr
Dependency ratio 1995 61.9 %
Total (actual) renewable water resources per inhabitant 1995 1 702 m/yr
Total dam capacity   - 106 m
Water withdrawal:
- agricultural 1987 786 106 m/yr
- domestic 1987 24 106 m/yr
- industrial 1987 0 106 m/yr
Total water withdrawal   810 106 m/yr
per inhabitant 1987 99 m/yr
as % of total (actual) renewable water resources   5.1 %
Other water withdrawal   - 106 m/yr
Average groundwater depletion   - 106 m/yr
Wastewater - Non-conventional water sources:
- produced wastewater   - 106 m/yr
- treated wastewater   - 106 m/yr
- reused treated wastewater   - 106 m/yr
Desalinated water 1990 0.1 106 m/yr

Along the Gulf of Aden, there is a mountainous zone with rugged relief which is subject to torrential flows, causing considerable erosion. The land slopes down towards the south and the south-flowing watercourses 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 Shebelli and Juba rivers, originating from the Ethiopian plateau and draining in a south-easterly direction towards the Indian Ocean. Over 90% of the discharge of these rivers originates from runoff in the Ethiopian highlands and there are large variations in discharge from year to year. Within Somalia the discharge decreases rapidly, due to losses by seepage, evaporation, overbank spillage due to low channel capacity and water abstraction. Often the rivers cease to flow in the lower reaches during the early part of the year. Contribution to river flow from inside Somalia occurs only during heavy rainfall.

The contribution of other drainage basins to surface water is generally insignificant. This normally consists 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 the wadis are tapped for small irrigated farms (1-25 ha). However, studies are still needed required for the exploration of groundwater.


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

TABLE 3 - 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 area irrigated from non-conventional sources   - %
% of equipped area actually irrigated   - %
2. Spate irrigation area 1984 150 000 ha
3. Equipped wetland and inland valley bottoms (i.v.b.)   - ha
Total irrigation 11 +2+3) 1984 200 000 ha
- as % of cultivated area   20 %
4. Flood recession cropping area   - ha
Total water managed area 11 + 2 + 3 + 4) 1984 200 000 ha
- as % of cultivated area   20 %
- increase over last 10 years   - %
- power irrigated area as % of water managed area   - %
Full or partial control irrigation schemes: Criteria
Large-scale schemes > - ha 1984 25 000 ha
Medium-scale schemes 1984 0 ha
Small-scale schemes< - ha 1984 25 000 ha
Total number of households in irrigation 1984 33 750  
Irrigated crops:
Total irrigated grain production 1984 150 000 tons
as % of total grain production 1984 30 %
Harvested crops under irrigation   - ha
- permanent crops: bananas 1984 3 000 ha
- annual crops: total   - ha
. maize (mainly spate) 1984 150 000 ha
. sugar cane 1984 9 800 ha
. rice 1984 1 300 ha
.   - ha
. other annual crops   - ha
Drainage - Environment:
Drained area   - ha
as % of cultivated area   - %
- drained areas in full or partial control irrigated areas   - ha
- drained areas in equipped wetland and i.v.b.   - ha
- other drained areas   - ha
- total drained area with subsurface drains   - ha
- total drained area with surface drains   - ha
Flood-protected area   - ha
Area salinized by irrigation   - ha
Population affected by water-borne diseases   - inhabitants

Figure 1 - Water withdrawal (total: 810 million m in 1987)

Water withdrawal

In 1987, total water withdrawal was estimated at 0.87 km (Figure 1). Agricultural water withdrawal, about 0.79 km or 97% of total withdrawal, is mainly for the full or partial control irrigation schemes.


Despite the importance of irrigation for the main cash crops in Somalia (bananas and sugar cane), the development of irrigation and drainage systems is very poor. In the main irrigated areas in the Juba and Shebelli valleys, there is no organized system of water allocation and management and there is a salinity problem. 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).

Figure 2 - Distribution of the water managed areas (total: 200 000 ha in 1984)

Figure 3 - Typology of f/p control irrigation schemes (total: 50 000 ha in 1984)

In 1984, as regards full or partial control irrigation schemes, about half were 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 Shebelli and Juba 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 extraction upstream.

Figure 4 - Major irrigated crops (1984)

The major irrigated crops are maize (spate), sugar cane (mainly state farms) and bananas (mainly private farms) (Figure 4). Official statistics show, for the period 1970-1986, a slight decrease in area and a static yield for bananas, while there was an increase in area and a 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 Shebelli river. As for maize, an important irrigated and rainfed crop, production increased sharply due to the wide expansion of the 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 a 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 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 Shebelli and Juba rivers; registration of all irrigated farms within a cadastral system; allocation of legal water rights and management of the 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.

For the long term, the construction of the Duduble reservoir, to control the Shebelli river, and the Baardhere dam on the Juba river were planned. 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 were constructed, in which case the maximum area in the Shebelli valley would be about 50 000 - 60 000 ha, if irrigation efficiency increased to 50%. As far as the Baardhere dam is concerned, it was originally designed to irrigate up to 170 000 ha, but the size of the dam seems to have already been reduced to irrigate 50 000 ha, because of the need to share water with Ethiopia.

The future of irrigation and agriculture in general is primarily related to a return to political stability.


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

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

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

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