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Geography, climate and population
Somalia is situated in northeastern Africa and covers an area of 637 660 km2. It has the longest coastline in Africa, being bordered by the Gulf of Aden to the north and the Indian Ocean to the east. The country is bordered by Kenya in the south, Ethiopia in the west and by Djibouti in the north-west. The country can be divided in five distinct physio-geographic zones differentiated by topography:
- the northern coastal plains;
- the Golis mountain range in the north;
- the central coastal plains;
- the broad limestone-sandstone plateau covering all of central and southern Somalia;
- the flood plains of the Juba and Shabelle rivers in the south, which provide the highest agricultural potential.
The cultivated area was 1 071 000 ha in 2002, of which 1 045 000 ha arable land and 26 000 ha permanent crops, while permanent pastures covered 43 000 000 ha.
The climate in Somalia is mainly arid to semi-arid, with an average annual daytime temperature of 27ºC. It is hot and dry in the interior and on the Gulf of Aden, but cooler on the Indian Ocean coast and inland on the river floodplains. The mean annual precipitation is 282 mm, with 50 mm along the northern coast, 500 mm in the northern highlands, 150 mm in the interior plateau and 350-500 mm in the southwest. Somalia has one of the highest inter-annual variations of rainfall of any mainland African state, and it is this variability that has the most pervasive influence on pastoral and agropastoral production systems. Rainfall distribution is bimodal. The rains seasons being the Gu (April to June), which has most rains and the Deyr (October to November). The dry seasons are the Jilal (December to March) and the Hagaa (July to September). Annual potential evapotranspiration varies between 1 500 mm on the south coast and 2 900 mm on the north coast. The country is regularly subjected to drought, occurring moderately every 3-4 years and severely every 7-9 years.
Population estimates for Somalia vary from 6.8 million, according to the Somalia Watching Brief (2003), to 10.3 million, according to the UN (2004) (Table 1). About 65 percent of the population are rural. Population density is 16 inhabitants/km2 and the annual population growth rate was 2.3 percent between 1990 and 2002. A majority of the population remains nomadic, either pastoralist or agropastoralist. Agriculture is the second most common occupation. Somalia’s agro-pastoralist and settled farmers live in villages or small settlements where water resources are reliable, while the nomadic pastoralists move seasonally with their livestock depending on the availability of pasture and water. In 2001, Somalia counted about 300 000 internally displaced persons and 264 000 refugees in neighbouring countries. Up to 77 percent of the population are without access to safe water and 49 percent are without access to sanitation (1999). The prevalence of HIV/AIDS is estimated to be less than 1 percent.