Managing and Developing Water
for Peace and Prosperity in New Somalia:

- Constraints and Opportunities -

Paper presented at a seminar on Somalia in Lund University, Sweden, on 22 November 2000.



Water is a basic human necessity and a vital natural resource for all aspects of human existence, environmental survival, economic development and good quality of life.[1] As water is one of the Earth's most precious, indispensable & threatened resources, the UN (1998) identified lack of freshwater as being one of the five major problems facing humanity, as it ranked freshwater second after population. The UNEP (1999) also reported water shortage as one of the two most worrying problems for the new millenium.[2] Despite of declaring by the UN the decade of '1981-1991' as the International Decade for Water Supply and Sanitation, a total of 1.2 billion people still do not have access to safe drinking water and another 1.7 billion do not have proper sanitary means of disposing of human waste (UNDP, 1994).[3] As population grows, economies develop and megacities expand, greater demand will be placed on freshwater supplies. The whole issue of global food security is closely linked to water availability (Falkenmark, 1997). Unlike a resource such as oil, for which coal, wind, hydroelectric or nuclear power can be an alternative, water has no substitute (Gorbachev and Peres, 2000).

Global Water Resources

A glance at a world map conveys the erroneous impression that there could hardly be a water problem. Because water is the most abundant substance on Earth, covering 71% of the world's surface area, but not all is freshwater. Globally, freshwater constitute only 2.5% of all waters on the Earth (Shiklomanov, 1997). Of this 2.5%, less than 1% is actually available to people for use. It is further limited by its uneven distributions in world's regions and countries due to climatic condition and population size. Most of easily available freshwater resources exist in rivers and lakes that are shared by two or more countries. This makes already finite and scarce water resources further limited. When the resource is scarce and shared the competition over it increases automatically, and conflict could be the result. Most of African countries are water scarce. In addition, major river basins in Africa are internationally shared between two or more countries.

This valuable life and economic supporting resource is globally being wasted and abused, and widespread water pollution makes available water unusable.[4] As droughts and floods are contrasting effects of world's climate, water, like religion and ideology, has the power to move millions of people. Consequently, water supplies continue to dwindle due to resource depletion and pollution, whilst demand is rising fast because population growth is coupled with rapid industrialisation and urbanisation (Falkenmark, 1999; Glieck, 1998, Rosegrant, 1997). Lack of funds and investments for water development is one major reason and threat for a looming global water crisis (Biswas, 1999).

The Present Study

Somalia is by no means an exception in the above situation. There are substantial challenges of water scarcity in the country, which is far less studied. The country suffers from all types of water scarcities: (i) natural water scarcity due to its unfavourable climate; (ii) demographic water scarcity because of its increasing population and (iii) technical water scarcity because of its extremely low level of water development. Moreover, the country has very low adaptive capacity due to social resource scarcity.[5]

In one hand, Somalia is located in an extreme water scarce area, where most of the available water resources exist in rivers shared with neighbouring countries and demand for water is increasing due to the population and urban growth. Further increase in water demand is expected when the current civil unrest is ended. On the other hand, Somalia is lacking, not only easily available water resources, both also the human and financial resources to set up institutions and water infrastructures that are desperately needed. Moreover, facilities that have previously been set up for water supply and irrigation were totally destroyed during the civil war and no data is now available at any level. In addition, water supply activities in urban areas are now entirely run by unregulated private sector, with no common vision and coordination thus no respect for the environment and for what happens to water after use. Motivation of this study is therefore very strong. In the country, water is considered as a technical issue, but it has an important position in the socio-economic and political spheres. It also plays a central role in the performance of the cultural activities and values in Islamic terms. For these above-mentioned reasons, the paper concentrates on studying the subject in relation to Somalia.

The Purpose and Methodology of the Study

The purpose is to discuss and shed some light through analysis on water and related environmental issues in Somalia. It will also describe the salient features of internationally shared rivers, the Juba and Shabelle in the region of Horn of Africa. As methodology, literature review and interview with relevant people who were involved in the water affairs were carried out. This methodology is adopted in order to (i) describe country's climate and its effects on water availability; (ii) present the sectoral water uses and their relations to country's economic activities; (iii) analyse the water resources management in terms of institutional arrangement and infrastructure development, and suggest suitable system for water management and development; and (iv) to analyse the issue of water sharing in the two international river basins.


Background to Somalia

Located in the Horn of Africa, adjacent to the Arabian Peninsula, Somalia geographically lies in a very advantageous region, bordering both Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. Somalia, with a total land area of 637 660 km2, has the longest coastline of 3300 km in Africa. It shares border with Kenya, Ethiopia by Djibouti, as shown Figure 1.

The modern history of Somalia constitutes about 120 years (1880-2000): 80 years (1880-1960)[6] of colonial rule and division; 30 years (1960-1990) of democratic but mostly military rule and; 10 years (1990-2000) of chaos and State collapse. Despite being politically disintegrated, Somali has culturally and ethnically homogenous society. The widespread famine[7] in Somalia in 1992-93 caused by low agricultural yield due to several years of droughts combined with bloody civil war has resulted the largest UN humanitarian efforts and peacekeeping operations in history. Poverty, among other things, is the major root of social conflict and cause of the current political crisis in Somalia. After 10 years of collapse, the Somali state government is, however, now re-established at the Peace Conference in neighbouring country of Djibouti, where a Transitional Parliament and an interim President were elected in August 2000. Emerging out of a decade of civil war and state collapse, New Somalia is at a crossroad.

Figure 1. Map over Somalia in the Horn of Africa.

The country has an estimated population[8] of about 9 million in 1995, of which 75% in rural areas. Rate of population growth is about 3%, while Mogadishu is growing by a rate of 10% a year (World Bank, 1995). Significant portions of the population are living along or near the coastline (ibid.). This indicates the level of the pressure on the coastal aquifers for freshwater supply. After nomadic livestock[9] grazing/raising, agriculture is the second traditional occupation for most Somalis. Being predominantly pastoral communities, they are in permanent struggle and search for water and grassland. Somalia has lowest human development index (HDI) in the world. In addition, almost all types of environmental concerns exist in the country. These include shortage of water; use of contaminated water; extinction of wildlife; alarming deforestation for charcoal production and overgrazing; salinisation; recurrent drought and severe floods; illegal dumping of industrial hazardous waste in the sea and coastline areas by outsiders.

Water Availability - A Climatic Issue

The climate of Somalia is governed by the monsoon winds and ocean current systems. Four seasons are recognized; two rainy - gu and deyr, and two dry - jilal and hagaa. The gu, which has the most rains, begins normally in April and last until June, followed by the hagaa (July - September). The deyr rains comes next (October - November), and jilal happens between December and March. In Somalia, climate forms the life system. Climate is the primary factor in much of Somali life for the large nomadic population. Much of the country has arid or semi-arid climate due to the extremely low and variable rainfall, which is often unreliable. Annual rainfall is less than 250 mm in the north[10], about 400 mm in the south, and 700 mm in the south west (see Figure 2a). In comparison with the north, the southern part of Somalia between the two rivers is relatively well watered and constitutes the richest arable zone in the whole Somali populated areas in the Horn of Africa. On average, the country however receives 250 mm of rainfall per year, which is extremely low, while the potential evapotranspiration is above 2000 mm/y (NWC, 1989).[11]

Figure 2a. Annual Average Rainfall & Distribution in Somalia.
Figure 2b. Droughts in Africa (UNESCO, 1979).

Any sign of drought is received with dread and worry. Praying and sacrificing to Allah (God) for rain is not therefore only common in the country but also religious, and the onset of the rains is often viewed as the single most important event of the year. In Somali, rain has therefore moral values, making water as precious as gold. The climate, with water deficiency (FAO, 2000), fluctuates widely, putting pressure on water resources and food security.[12] The country is prone to devastating droughts which all leave a trail of misery in their wake, drastically affecting humans and animals alike. The effects of droughts and floods are different, enormous and scaring. Figure 3 shows different effects of the country's climate. Droughts and floods are the most natural features of country's climate.

Droughts: The effects of the drought are scaring because of the loss of life. The drought is frequent in Somalia, as shown in Figure 2b. In Somalia, severe droughts occur frequently resulting large size starvation and killing thousands of people and animals.[13] Figure 3a. The effect of the drought in Somalia.

Floods: The most notable effects of the floods are the loss of life and property. The floods kill and displace thousands people living in the towns and villages along the riverbanks. In addition, floods devastate several thousands of hectares of farmland and destroy already poor infrastructures.[14] Originating in the Ethiopian Highlands, these floodwater inundate hundred of villages making people in urgent need of food, water, shelter and medicines, due to outbreak of diseases. The hardest floods in living memory have occurred in 1940s, 1964, 1981 and 1997. This record suggests that floods with large size effects seem to have a return period of 15-20 years. Floods in late 1997, regarded as hardest, over 2450 people and more than 3500 livestock were killed, while more than 60,000 hectares of crops and farmland destroyed (SACB, 1998) and many more became homeless, causing environmental refugees and problems. Figure 3b. The effect of the floods in Somalia.

However, the total annual available water resources in Somalia, which are dominated by surface water, could be estimated to about 10,000 million m3. A significant portion of country's water resources originates in neighbouring county of Ethiopia (NWC, 1989). As predicted by FAO (1993), Somalia has already joined water scarce countries in the world, it passed the point defined by Falkenmark (1989) to indicate severe water stress and water deficit, where water scarcity effectively limits further development. Under these water scarcity conditions, high level of technology and large-scale irrigation will be necessary in order to increase the needed yield of food production. Water scarcity is a serious threat and hinder to country's development.

The Juba & Shabelle River Basins - An International Issue

The Juba and Shabelle River Basins[15] in the Horn of Africa (shown in Figure 1) are rivers carrying international freshwater resources. The total area of the Shabelle River Basin is approximately 307,000 sq. km, more than half is within Ethiopia, while the Juba River Basin is 233,000 sq. km, 65% of which is in Ethiopia, 30% in Somalia and 5% in Kenya (NWC, 1989).[16] The Juba and Shabelle dominate Somali's southern landscape.

The Shabelle River Basin

The Shabelle River rises at altitude over 3000 m on the eastern Ethiopian Highlands[17], where the rainfall reaches over 1000 mm/y. Flowing generally south-easterly direction; the river passes through an arid land (less than 200 mm/y) cutting wide valleys in the Somali Plateau. Most of the rains come during period between April/May and September/October. In the eastern region[18] of Ethiopia where the two rivers pass, the average rainfall is about 200 mm/y (Dyer el. at, 1993). The average annual rainfall over the entire basin is 455 mm (NWC, 1989). Potential evaporation is lower in the highlands of Ethiopia (1250 mm/y) and high in the lowland area (over 2000 mm/y). However, the mean annual runoff (MAR) at Belet-Weyne is 2,384 million m3, thereafter decreasing (ibid.). Over 90% of the runoff are generated within Ethiopia e.g. less than 10% is contributed by catchments in Somalia. From its source, the total length of the river is 1500 km, 600 km of which runs in Somalia. As the river crosses the existing international border, the city of Belet-Weyne, only 30 km away from the border, is the most important point where the flow and quality of the water in the river could be observed. The river is perennial and does not normally enter the Indian Ocean, but into a depression area, where it is finally lost in the sand east of Jilib, near the Juba River. Only with exceptionally heavy rains does the Shabelle River break through to join the Juba and thus succeed in reaching the sea. Salinisation is a serious environmental problem related to irrigation in the river. It has a high saline content even during high flows (Markakis, 1998).

The Juba River Basin

Like the Shabelle, the Juba originates from the Ethiopian Highlands, where three large tributaries, the Gestro, the Genale and Dawa exist. These tributaries meet near the border with Somalia to form the Juba River. The rainfall at the high altitude areas in Ethiopia reach 1500 mm/y, less than 200 mm/y in the northern part of the border, and 600 mm/y in the south of Luuq (NWC, 1989). The mean annual rainfall is however 550 mm/y (ibid.). Luuq is the most important point to observe the Juba River as it crosses the border. The Juba, which enters the Indian Ocean at Kismayu, has a total length of 1100 km. Within Somalia it traverses a distance of about 550 km. The MAR at Luuq is 6,400 million m3 (ibid.); again over 90% is contributed by Ethiopia (ibid.).

The Shabelle is larger in size and longer in distance than the Juba, but these did not lead the Shabelle River to be larger in runoff due to climatic and geological condition. Hydrologically, both river basins are water deficit. However, Somalia's most freshwater resources exist in these rivers. Of the estimated annual surface run-off by the major river basins in Ethiopia, Somalia receives only 6% (ibid.). The two rivers are now international and it is historically attributed to the Colonial Administration, who arbitrarily drew the political borders between Somalia and Ethiopia during late 19th and mid 20th centuries (Drysdale, 1964). The impact of colonial division on Somalia's water resources is significant, but will be understood more in the future. The two rivers supply the rice bowl of Somalia, and support important economic areas in southern Somalia. In both river basins, Somalia is the downstream riparian, which is the least favourable position to be in hydropolitical terms, as the upstream basin country, Ethiopia, can theoretically divert and pollute the water in the rivers. Somalia as an end user of the two rivers depends on the runoff generated in the upstream riparian, Ethiopia. This will be more evident especially during periods of droughts.

Sectoral Water Use - An Economic Issue

Domestic Water Use - A Growing Sector

In Somalia, water supplies for domestic purposes are unreliable. It is distributed from community wells by donkey carts to the households due to lack of infrastructure development. This indicates that the country depends on groundwater supplies. Groundwater potential is limited because of the limited potential for recharge. In Somalia, donkey carts are traditional methods of water distribution, which still are operational. In many areas, water is collected with buckets. Centralised distribution system of pipes is one of the future dreams. In 1985, the water withdrawal for domestic purpose was estimated to only 3% of the total (World Bank, 1987).

Before the civil war in 1991, almost 6 million of the population had no secure access to safe water, while more than 7 million lacked sanitation (UNDP, 1995). The rate of urbanisation is high. Increasing population in urban centres and improving standard of living are two determining factors in urban water use increase. In Mogadishu, the water supply is, since 1991, run by unregulated private entities with no common vision and co-ordination. Having over 500 hand-dug wells, the uncontrolled privatisation of water distribution in Mogadishu has benefited its one million residents in many ways responding to water needs, keeping down costs and creating wealth, however, such process has its own dangers (Nembrini and Conti, 1998). The environment is severely ignored and pollution is at its peak, this is because of no attention has been paid to what happens to water after use. As some 4000 donkey carts distribute over 9000 m3 of water per day in Mogadishu (ibid.), the groundwater is pumped at a rate much higher than its recharge[19]. In the city as well as other urban centres, quality of supplied water is unacceptable due to pollution from human waste and saltwater intrusion from the sea. The later is because of lowered groundwater table caused by overpumping (ibid.). Considering that many urban centres are densely populated, groundwater is expected to be badly polluted by human and solid wastes that are inadequately disposed.

Nowhere in the country the sewage (wastewater) is ever treated. People rely on and dispose their human waste in pit latrines and shallow underground tanks, which pollute the groundwater. As a result, Mogadishu is not only a politically divided city[20] but also an environmentally polluted urban centre. Despite pit latrines have greatly improved sanitation in developing countries during the last few decades (Pickford, 1991; Marks, 1993) a major problem with this on-site sanitation is nitrate pollution of the groundwater (Jacks el at. 1995). It also led to deterioration of the groundwater quality by bacterial pollution and by increasing the nitrate (NO3) content (Lewis el at. 1980; Gbodi and Atawodi, 1987; Reed, 1994; Nkotago, 1996). Despite the suspect is very high; no data are available on the bacterial conditions of the water from the wells in Somalia.

Value of water in urban environments could significantly be understood in the case of the city of Hargeisa[21], where 11 wells supply the city which is in water crisis (BBC, 2000a). Kismayo, another major town, gets its water from the Juba River. Major towns and villages in Somalia are badly suffering from unprecedented crisis in water supply and cholera closely related with the use of contaminated water (ibid.). Even areas with perceivably abundant water are having water problems. Belet-Weyne, a major city on the Shabelle River, is also lacking safe and reliable source of drinking water. This is because of that the river may dry up during February-March and is probably polluted, especially during low flow periods (WDA, 1986). Investigations show that water in many wells in the city is of poor quality and unsuitable for any use (ibid.). The cause is one of natural environment and human activities. Many in rural areas abandon their homes due to shortage of water every year, even during normal years there are no secure source of water for their lives and livestock.

Water Use in Agriculture - A threatened Sector

In Somalia, the cultivable area was estimated at about 8 million ha in 1985, 13% of the total area. In 1984, it was estimated that about 980 000 ha were cultivated by annual crops, i.e. 12% of the cultivable area, but only about 18 000 ha consisted of permanent crops (World Bank, 1987), 2% of cropland. As shown in Figure 4, the main agricultural areas are in the south. The main crops are maize, sorghum, sugar cane and rice, while bananas are the principal cash crop, accounting for 40% of export earnings in 1988 (ibid.). In 1985, total water withdrawal was estimated at 870 million m3, 97% of which was drawn to irrigated agriculture (ibid.). The figure is equivalent to about 8% of the total annual available water resources of the country. This is to indicate the technical water scarcity of the country due to the low level of infrastructure development.

Figure 4. Main Crop Zone and Cereal Production of Somalia (FAO, 1997)

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, and there is no organised system of water allocation and management. Poorly performed irrigation systems, particularly surface irrigation in the country, wastes large amount of water which are lost unproductively before it reaches the intended crop. Moreover, drainage that is generally also poor causes soil waterlogging and salinisation[22] affecting arable land. Relatively favourable rainfalls make the entire riverine fertile region an area suitable for agriculture production. However, costs of irrigation development is quite high (Biswas, 1986) due to lack of financial resources and cost recovery. Figure 4 shows agriculture yield decline due to the, among others, current political crisis. When the country politically stabilises the yield may improve which will require increase in water use in the two rivers.

Several agricultural development projects have been based on the water resources of the two rivers, the Juba and Shabelle, as will be discussed. Although most of the farmers are relying on rainfall, there is water deficiency that is further worsened by consecutive droughts. The World Bank (1985) recommended that all expansion along the Shabelle River cease and efforts be concentrate on improving efficiency through better water management in existing schemes.


Institutional arrangement - A Capacity Issue

Before the onset of the civil war in early 1991, the main institution in charge of water resources management and development in Somalia was the Ministry of Mineral and Water Resources (MMWR), and its National Water Centre (NWC). The Water Development Agency (WDA) was responsible for operations exploiting groundwater resources for domestic water supply. In parallel, Ministry of Agriculture was mandated to plan and operate water for agricultural activities in the Shabelle River, while Ministry of National Planning and Juba Valley Development became responsible for development of the Juba River, particularly the Bardere Dam Project (BDP). Functions of the national and local agencies in water affairs have not been separated. This system of institutional arrangement shows a total fragmentation and highly centralized arrangements. It lacked not only sectoral integration but also sectoral responsibility and intersectoral coordination. This requires a major change in institutional framework and arrangement in the future. An another constraint is lack of sufficient qualified staff, which could run the system.

Institutional Arrangement for Water Issues in Somalia prior to the Civil War.

The country has never had a water act. The system was regulated by ad and hoc type of legal framework, which does not reflect or base on an existing policy. Customary water laws which supports only water rights related to land ownership and occupancy are not sustainable and acceptable, as they deny access to water for those who are not riparian to the watercourses. Water should therefore be national asset and resource rather than private. Traditional and customary rules relating to water rights are not widely documented and therefore there is a considerable lack of awareness and understanding.

Water Resources Development - Technical, Environmental or Political Issue

Water is a source of life and conflict, and its development may have negative or positive impact on the natural environment and social conditions. Water is increasingly becoming not only technical issue but also political. If the people, livestock and agriculture that require water, do not get it, it generates socio-economic and political problems. Livestock in Somalia, which with banana form the backbone of Somalia's export earnings, need secure source of water for their survival and contribution to the economy. As livestock raising[23] and subsidence farming are the two major traditional socio-economic activities of the country, water play a vital role in the existence of their life. Infrastructure developments, which supply them with water to secure their fragile system of life, are almost lacking at all levels.

When river and wells dried up communities fight over the scarce resources. Traditionally, Somalis are predominantly pastoral communities relying on grazing land and wells. Agricultural communities rely on rainfall as well as river runoff. As a result of drier climatic conditions, breakdown in traditional governance mechanism and increasing number of people, conflict over water resources are now becoming a common occurrence in the rural areas. Due to unregulated resource use, overgrazing and deforestation resulting desertification and soil erosion, competition over water and grazing land became rampant, which in turn result loss of life and occupation. In order to secure their fragile system of life, development of groundwater resources is important for nomadic communities in the rural areas. This development will also minimise, if not eliminate, clan conflict, which often starts at the water sources i.e. wells. Pastoralists make use of wells in many parts of the country, and borehole digging is an investment made by the State. Inevitably, the area around boreholes became devastated by the concentration of livestock, and the environmental consequences became obvious. This forced the State to abandon such practices (Markakis, 1998).

In the urban centres, water supplies for households are not reliable due to lack of infrastructure developments and distribution systems. The quality of the supplied water is also unacceptable. In the urban water supply, the most notable project implemented was Mogadishu water supply during 1980s. Despite of that, the entire city was not supplied. Mogadishu, which is currently suffering from lack of secure and safe source of water, is located near a reliable aquifer between the city and the Shabelle River. The water supply for the city is one of the things that its residents value most.

Irrigation Development Projects that have been implemented or planned include:

(1) Juba Sugar Project (JSP), often known as Mareerey, to grow sugarcane and to
produce sugar. The JSP, using sprinkle and surface irrigation, was around Jilib.
(2) Mugaambo Rice Irrigation Project, around Jamame, using run-of-the-river via canal.
(3) Fanole Dam Project, multipurpose dam development but mainly for irrigation,
hydropower generation and flood mitigation, is located near Jilib.
(4) Arare Banana Irrigation Project, around Jamame.
(5) Bardere Dam Project (BDP), the largest ever planned but unimplemented project.

All these projects are based on the water resources of the Juba River. No major dam development was built on the Shabelle River, but those agriculture activities along the Shabelle River are many and intensively use much of the available water. Off-stream facility with storage capacity of 200 million m3 was build near Jowhar. Another one which would store 130 - 200 million m3, was proposed upstream of Jowhar. Several agricultural schemes exist at Afgoi area, near Mogadishu.

The need to regulate the Juba River was recognised as early as the 1920s by the Italian colonial administration (ibid.). Under Italian colonial rule, the Juba and Shabelle valleys became the focus of economic development[24]. The largest ever-planned water development project in Somalia was Bardere Dam Project (BDP), which would be on the Juba River near the town of Bardere. It would fully utilise the water of the river. It is regarded as a vital step towards self-sufficient in food, and has received priority in development planning. The BDP is intended to fulfil three functions: flood mitigation; irrigation development and hydropower generation. The BDP would irrigate a minimum of 175,000 ha of agricultural land[25] and supply power to Mogadishu to reduce the cost of petroleum imports. The BDP was economically and technically motivated but politically failed (Godah, 2000). The BDP was studied from environmental, social, economical and technical viewpoints, but these were not enough to secure the required funds for implementation. No study was made of the potential impact of the dam to downstream or along the coast where the river ends (Markakis, 1998). Political factors that played important role were:

In northern regions[26] of the country, there are some promising areas for water resources development using technologies appropriate to local conditions (Faillace, 1997). Despite of that, there was no water development of any sort in the north (Markakis, 1998).

The problem of unpredictability and wide variations in rainfall, which is generally low and further compounded by the low water holding capacity of the soil, limits the opportunity for reliable rainfed agriculture. Thus, the need for irrigation development becomes extremely significant to resolve the frequent food crisis[27] in the country. However, under this set of physical conditions, water stress is the most critical and greatest natural factor to agricultural development and production. In Somalia, heavy investment in major irrigation work is inevitable (Somalia, 1979), as lack of irrigation intensifies the impact of drought mainly in terms of reduction of crop yields. The development of rainfed agriculture is approaching the limits of its potential because of the lack of alternative crops suitable for production under local conditions (Somalia, 1987). This indicates again that irrigation development is inevitable, if production is to be increased. As the country lacks infrastructure development for water resources; small, medium and large size water resources mobilisation are necessary in the future.


National Perspectives and Realities

Water - An Important Factor in Social and Political Crisis

Water Resources Management (WRM) is, in fact, a serious business in dry areas like Somalia. One of the main reasons behind the civil war is lack of an acceptable system of natural resources management, including water. This is to say that water, which is the major factor determining the fragile system of life of the rural communities, was not developed and managed to the required extent. Somalia State collapsed, among other things, because of the way it treated the environment. Environmental scarcity is a major factor contributing to the current socio-political crisis in the country. Droughts, lack of grassland, large population growth, and increasing urbanisation are major factors exacerbating the less available water supplies and thus contributing towards growing water scarcity and crisis.

The political problems of securing effective and equitable integrated management of water resources can be acute in the future. In the country, water makes part of the political crisis, and no water security could be reached without firstly making a major shift in political and social thinking. During the civilian rule in the 1960s, candidates to the parliament use to dig wells for the rural communities to attract and secure their votes (Amalow, 1998). So, the water was an election issue. Because of its importance for human and livestock supply, wells are traditional source of conflict in country's rural areas.

The State has the responsibility to create conditions to provide water. This is manifested in the New Charter, the mini-constitution formulated in Djibouti Peace Conference. At present in Somalia, developing water resources is a solution for the current political crisis and social instability and a tool for socio-economic development and more importantly solution for human and environmental health improvements. It is therefore an important tool for the entire security of the human environment. It also means building an economic future that goes beyond the culture of the conflict.

Constraints in WRM

Current perceptions suggest decentralisation of WRM systems. Decentralisation of country's WRM is therefore necessary in order to address the challenge locally, but unfortunately it faces several constraints. The most notable obstacles are lack of financial and human resources. In order to be able to operate such a system native expertise with available funds are required. In addition, infrastructure, which could facilitate the communication, is also lacking at all level of the nation. Moreover, data is also lacking at any level. These make the decentralisation system for WRM impractical and thus impossible. Consequently, to set up a temporary system of WRM, centralisation could be an alternative at present at least at provincial level, but not the best for the entire country.

As lack of education is a major challenge in the country, capacity building in the form of human resources development is the foundation for better engagement with government at all levels. Institutional development should be part of the capacity building. Corruption and mismanagement should be addressed, as they are barriers to solving the water crisis.

Legal Framework of WRM

As the country never had a water act, socially and political acceptable legal-based mechanism, which also reflect climatic conditions and cultural values of the people, is needed and should be developed in consultation with local communities. Culture including religion clearly influence how people perceive and manage a resource such as water. It is therefore increasingly acknowledged the importance of local culture and values in policies of natural resources management. Application of Islamic legal principles for WRM is useful and reasonable enough in responding to the changing condition and challenges (Abderrahman, 2000). Legal mechanisms should be enforceable. Making the system of WRM more effective, separation of functions of the national and local institutions in water business is absolutely necessary. Local community participation and involvement is compulsory. This is according to the Dublin Principles adopted in 1992. It states that water should be managed at the lowest appropriate level (ICWE, 1992). To create a political space in civil society, all stakeholders should be involved in decision making process while participation of vulnerable group including women should be encouraged. WRM is about democracy and participation, not just consultation.

Problems of the financial constraints faced in water resource development could be partially removed if the responsibility for paying the costs of such development is accepted by the users in the future. This is a recently initiated principle, which could secure the future investment[28]. Any investment in water development should be transparent and well regulated. It might require privatisation of the water business, but it should however be public planning. In view of the above-mentioned principles, among other things, agriculture sector is threatened.

Institutional Arrangements of WRM - A New Framework

The Ministry of Mineral & Water[29] Resources (MM&WR) should take its role, while other governmental departments, such as national planning, agriculture, environment and rural development, reconstruction and rehabilitation as well as foreign affairs and finance should be involved in the process of water resources planning. These departments could be input in the MM&WR's policy formation and future planning. The MM&WR is particularly needed to work closely with the MR&R[30] and ME&RD[31] , as both are new organs, which the country did not use to have, but have water related functions.

The model shown in Figure 5 illustrates how sectors relevant to water affairs could be inter-linked based on integrated approach focusing interdisciplinary, interprofessional and intersectoral communication. The model suggests a system of WRM with centralised and decentralised elements. To make the system decentralised, the model further suggests that two levels of organisations, PWAO and WUC, have to be established between the MM&WR and end users. The operation and application of WRM systems should be in the hands on those closest rather than distant organisations with the State institutions providing only a co-ordinating educating and information dissemination roles.

Figure 5. Model of Institutional Arrangement for WRM with centralised and decentralised elements.

Water Resources Development in the Future

Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM)[32] is necessary, as the future could not be approached by relying on the one-thing-at-a-time approaches in the past. This means considerable considerations should be given not only the engineering and economic issues but also social and environmental issues to avoid any frustrations in the development and management of water resources.

Guaranteed access to water in agriculture based economies with dry climates, like Somalia, is as important as the ownership of land. In other words, agricultural land without water available for its development and production has no value. This is the case of southern part of Somalia, where the two river systems, Juba and Shabelle, supply the most fertile regions of the country. As water is the limiting factor for food production (IWRA, 1997), without the water resources in these river systems, the cultivable areas in the southern Somalia can not produce the required food. Therefore, water development for agricultural purposes should be given higher priority in national development plans.

As access to water is recognised as a human right, the current government should also address access to water for the use of growing and urbanising population.

Rainwater harvesting[33] needs also to be encouraged. It can be used to meet local needs of the water, as it helps solve water quantity and quality problems and reduce time needed to fetch water[34].

Regional Perspectives on Shared Rivers

In international waters, there are several conflicting theories favouring either upstream or downstream countries. A move to reconcile them and resolve the alarming crisis in shared freshwater resources; the UN General Assembly adopted the UN Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses in 1997 [35]. This legal instrument, which is not yet formally ratified by the required number of countries and thus not operational, is too weak to meditate disputing basin states over shared water resources. The UN Convention however encourages cooperation through joint mechanism in the form of commission in order to address equitable, reasonable and non-harmful utilization of the international watercourse.

The Juba and Shabelle Rivers in the Horn of Africa is shared mainly by Ethiopia and Somalia. There are many constraints and potentila conflicts in these rivers. The relations between Ethiopia and Somalia were complicated particularly in view of the long history, which is full of animosity, mistrust, conflict and dispute of land. These tense relations resulted two military wars in 1964 and 1977. The relation has even been deteriorating since the overthrow of the two countries' dictators in 1991. These unfavourable relations may in the future adversely affect cooperation that is required in the development of these shared rivers. The two countries have in the past never discussed agreement or joint commission for the utilisation of the shared waters.

The development of international water resources requires the services of international machinery on the basis of cross-border cooperation. The absence of agreement on the Juba and Shabelle can have significant impact on the feasibility of any national water resources development schemes in the future, as it affected in the past. Cooperation and agreements on the utilisation of rivers' water are also necessary for funding support by donor communities and international financial agencies.

In 1988, Ethiopia completed the Melka Wakana hydroelectric project on the upper reaches of the Shabelle River (Markakis, 1998). Ethiopia has now started building large dams on the Shabelle River (BBC, 2000b), this threats future opportunities of water resources development in Somalia. On the Shabelle River in Ethiopia, Godey Dam project is to be completed next year, while there are other planned dam projects (ibid.). Unilateral developments, which Ethiopia currently carries out, will severely impact downstream country of Somalia, which may also have future plans for its development.

The combined adverse effects of these dam developments on Somalia are significant. Agricultural activities in southern Somalia, where the two river supply, depend mainly on rivers' water. The Juba and Shabelle are an important resource base for Somalia, but there are growing fears that these rivers may impoverish the nation they are suppose to set on the path to prosperity, because of upstream activities.

Considering the possible and potential future development plans, which can come up at the time of political stability in the region, and taking into account the limited amount of water, the water resources in the two rivers will unlikely be able to fulfil the sum of all demands that the riparian countries will claim in the future. In response to political stability, urbanisation and desire of improving living standard and economic development, water use will have unprecedented increase. Increasing demands on and potential disputes over region's shared rivers are likely to rise, as region's development plans will require significant increases in water use. This growing competition for increasingly scarce water and uneasy relationship between the two countries may lead to international conflict, which can shift from water problem to national security [36].

As the prosperity of the people of Horn of Africa and their economic development depends so much on their natural capital including water and coast lines, realisation of prosperity and development will need mutual cooperation and development programs. Region's people and politicians must come to recognise that the region's physical base represents the pathway to community. If Somalia and Ethiopia wants lasting security, then shared water, among others, must be commonly addressed. The Horn of Africa must seek to overcome divisions, which the region inherited from colonial administration, and water is certainly a good place to start. Because it is clear that region's available scarce and shared water resources must be shared between different riparian States. The only assurance that no harm is done to the interests of any party lies in the process of collaboration and negotiation to facilitate the sustainable management of shared water resources. 5.


The paper has been giving an overview and introduction to the scarce, shared and often taken-for-granted resource, water, in Somalia. Being a poverty-stricken, drought- and flood-prone and war-ravaged country, Somalia is a poor country that is also poor in water resources. People generally have no or limited access to safe drinking water and no adequate sanitation at all. The low and unpredictable rainfall makes the rainfed subsistence agriculture vulnerable, and puts the life of significant portion of the population permanently in jeopardy. In addition, political instability, lack of financial resources and qualified staff as well as low level of infrastructure development is making the country deep in major unprecedented water crisis. Water scarcity is a serious threat and hinder to economic development. Somalis are enforced to be unstable society due to their permanent struggle against water and grassland. It deepens the poverty, a serious issue.

Groundwater is the only source of water supply for human and livestock use. Overexploitation and pollution of groundwater resources in urban areas are threatening water supplies and the natural environment. This urban pollution results a serious irreversible deterioration on groundwater resources. Growing and urbanising population demand secure and safe sources of water for their daily use. Both needs and difficulties are therefore greater.

Decentralised system of water resources management is necessary but impractical for the current conditions, due to the above mentioned constraints. However, WRM system with effective institutions and legal backings need to be developed.
Although clanism is often understood as the cause of the current conflict, the substance of the conflict is more often intense competition over scarce and diminishing resources such as water. Struggle for land with water resources in southern Somalia seems to be an issue, which lie at the heart of the ongoing political crisis. As a result of the State collapse and civil war, the country has been outside of international debates and meetings on water and environmental issues in the world [37].

As the traditional economic activities that are more based on livestock raising and cultivation show, country's economy is based on the availability of water. In other words, the major constraint for Somalia's economic development and improvement of living standard is water. It is contradictory then that the country is naturally water scarce and economically water dependent. This implies that the long-term economic activities should not be dependent on water. On the other hand, it is extraordinary difficult to change the economic system, which the people have had for centuries. Reallocation of water to a more social benefit activities may cause social problems.

The paper reviews the strong coloration between water availability and social stability and economic development in Somalia. Environmental degradation & water scarcity have appreciable socio-economic and political impacts. Water scarcity now threatening Somalia is an alarming issue that has to be addressed with extreme urgency not only by Somalia itself but also by donor communities and international organisations. Counteracting the water shortage and crisis is a serious challenge in the country, for reasons related to water supply, food security, and poverty eradication among others. Challenging water crisis should therefore be a national priority. Developing and managing of water resources in Somalia for peace, prosperity and social benefit means building a economic future that goes beyond the culture of conflict to a more social and political stability society. It is a tool for the entire security of the society and environment. However, major obstacles to developing water resources in Somalia are political, institutional and financial.

The Juba and Shabelle Rivers are international rivers, having seasonal and variable runoff largely generated from Ethiopia. They provide the largest source of freshwater resources in Somalia, supplying the mainstay of its agriculture. Irrigation potential in the basins are much more than the water available. Structures minimising the effects of droughts and floods are desperately required.

Cooperation between Ethiopia and Somalia, which has long dark history, is necessary for the potential development of the two rivers. In view of the unfriendly relations, there is a potential conflict between the countries over the utilisation of the water of the two shared rivers. The two rivers will have major impacts on countries' relations. Due to resource constraints, basin countries have to realise the cost of not cooperating. Joint management of these river basins is therefore a prerequisite for achieving sustainable development. Political commitment at the highest national level is a key for water resources management at the international level, which can allow water to support the making of peace and development - instead of being the cause of conflict.


First of all praise and thanks to Allah (God), who created me and made it possible for me to do this thesis. I have also a number of persons in different parts of the world to thank, for their assistance and support. I would like to express my sincerely gratitude to everyone who provided material, support and advise. These include Davin Lubin Memorial Library of the FAO in Rome for the material they sent me; Dr. Costatino Faillace in Rome for the several documents about Somali water resources he provided me, Dr. Klas Sandström with whom I deeply discussed about this paper, and Dr. Gunilla Björklund for her comments. My thanks also go to the persons I contacted and interviewed. I am also indeed most grateful to my beloved family for their patience when I was producing this paper.


[1] The Holy Quran, particularly verse 35 in Chapter 21 (Surah Anbiyaa), and verse 45 in Chapter 24 (Surah Nur). Many verses of the Quran scientifically discuss the water and its role in the human existence and environmental survival.
[2] World's thirst for water is likely to become one of the most pressing resource issues of the 21st Century (World Resources Institute, UNEP, UNDP and World Bank, 1998 p.188). The world is facing unprecedented water crisis.
[3] Numbers are increasing: 1.4 billion and 2.3 billion respectively, causing 7 millions of death yearly (Serageldin, 1999).
[4] Half of world's rivers and lakes are seriously polluted (Serageldin, 1999). The world is facing a water crisis of unprecedented magnitude from drought, flood and pollution.
Social resources are what societies employ when attempting to adapt to social stress, and it is always embodied in institutions or within institutional framework, including actors, administrative bodies and rules (Ohlsson, 1999).
Lewis, I., M., 1988. A Modern History of Somalia.

Because of the adverse effects of the famine, which forced the people to eat animal skin, Somalia was at that time described in the media as the hell on the Earth. The world was also watching living skeletons on the TV coverage.
These estimations are based on the population census in 1987 (i.e. 7 million), but it seems that the civil war during 1990s may have caused a real reduction in the population size and growth. Data on population is however lacking.
The livestock is estimated to about 40 million, of which 6 million is camels and 11 cattle (Somalia, 1988). Somalia rank third in the world in terms of pastoralist population size, and it is home to the largest camel population in the world (Markakis, 1998). In the country, camels are mobile searching for water and grass, which are rare. The role of livestock export to the Arabian Peninsula in the nation's overall economy is still significant.
[10] In the north, mountainous areas near Erigabo has 700 mm/y rainfall, while Hargeisa has over 400 mm (NWC, 1989). North East regions have lowest rainfall. For the last three years, Bosaso has not received rain (Qaran Press, 2000).
[11] 250 mm/y is 57% less than the African mean annual rainfall of 585 mm, and less than 71% the world average '860 mm'.
Throughout the region, there is a clear perception that droughts are increasing both in severity and frequency. There are some indications that the climate has become drier in the last two centuries, possibly as result of climate change.
Records and popular memory recall 14 major incidents of drought between 1911 and 1973; one every four to five years (Swift, 1997). This fits in the very high risk of recurrent drought shown in Figure 2b. According to local people in the Hiran Region of central Somalia, during period around 1946-1952, there were six consecutive years of drought that forced most of the local people to immigrate to other parts of the country, particularly westward. This rather long drought severely affected the lives of the people, their livestock and subsistence farming. In 1984-85, famine in the region caused by several years of accumulated droughts was blamed for the death of one million people in Ethiopia. In the droughts, it is common to see living skeleton of humans and animals. The region lacks normal or average rainfall.
Hiran, Middle Shabelle and Lower Shabelle regions in the Shabelle River Basin and Gedo, Middle and Lower Juba regions in the Juba River Basin are flood-prone areas.
River Basin is the land area which a river and its tributaries drain (Lo, 1992 p.1255).
Recently published document, which updated international rivers of the world (Wolf et al., 1999), gives different figures. It estimated the combined area of the two river basins to 805 100 km2, which Somalia occupies 27.5%, Ethiopia 45.7% and Kenya 26.8%. Kenya does not however have access to the river and thus no significant interest.
Because of its topographical conditions, the Ethiopian Highlands are the main source of freshwater for the Horn of African Region as well as for other distant country, i.e. Egypt.
Inhabitants of eastern part of Ethiopia are ethnically Somalis. This region was internationally known as Ogaden but in Somalia it is referred as Somali Western, while it is recently named as Region 5 in Ethiopia.
The groundwater system is naturally recharged by the rainfall. The mean annual rainfall of Mogadishu is 428 mm, while the potential evaporation exceeds 1800 mm per year (NWC, 1989).
The city has been since 1991 divided into rival warring factions struggling over the political power of the country.
Hargeisa is second Capital City of Somalia located in northern part of the country (see Figure 1).
Because of the poor drainage developed during the colonial periods (Markakis, 1998), irrigation causes salinity to increase by raising water tables, thereby bringing dissolved salt into contact with plant root system and eventually the land surface, where evaporation fails to remove salt, which accumulates as result.
The entire area of the country is greatly affected by overgrazing (UNEP, 1992), causing serious environmental effects
These were particularly the developments for commercial cultivation concentrated on banana production, which accounted for over half of total export value of the country.
But the size of the dam seems to have been reduced to irrigate only 50 000 ha, because of the need to share the water in the Juba River with co-basin upstream country of Ethiopia.
No major water resources developments have ever been implemented in the northern regions. During the period of colonial administration few wells have constructed. In this part of the country, water resources development i.e. wells are desperately needed both for the livestock watering and rural communities.
Food crisis causing famine became common in Somalia. Much of the response to the crisis is a short term one in the form of food aid, which is not sustainable. These major famines ravaging Africa have multiple causes.
Compared to other infrastructure sectors, such as telecommunication and power, water has the least cost recovery (Serageldin, 1995).
[29]Under the current economic conditions, water resources are economically, politically, socially, culturally and environmentally more important for the country than mineral resources, which are still to investigate for exploitation. Mineral extraction played a very minor role in the economy and no petroleum production has ever been experienced.
The MR&R is a new organ responsible for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of country's destroyed infrastructures and resettlement of internally displaced people.
[31]The ME&RD is responsible for the protection of the degrading environment and development of rural communities.
The IWRM is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems (GWP, 2000).
[33] Rainwater harvesting is a simple, small-scale and traditional technique that can bring many benefits.
[34] In rural communities in Somalia, people spend large amount of time to fetch water for their families and livestock.
[35] This convention is the outcome of 27 years of sustained work by the International Law Commission (ILC) and more than 30 years since the International Law Association (ILA) introduced the Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Water of International Rivers in 1966 in Helsinki, Finland.
[36] Ashton (2000) states that water conflicts in Africa will be inevitable if we do not prevent them from occurring. While Gleick (1993) notes that such risk for conflict tend to be apparent in arid climate and where the water demand is already approaching or exceeding supply.
[37] These meetings include the Dublin International Conference on Water and Environment in Ireland in 1992, the prominent Rio Conference on Environment and Development in Brazil in 1992, the World Water Forum in the Haag in the Netherlands in 2000, Stockholm Water Symposium, a prominent annual water forum.


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