Somalia is one of the biodiversity-rich countries in the Horn of Africa, with a high level of endemic species [1]. However, due to decades of conflict, there is limited scientific knowledge and research on the country’s biodiversity [2]. Studies of species diversity in Somalia have been infrequent, but it is believed to be home to more than 175 mammal species and 671 bird species. Over 3,000 plant species have been recorded, 836 of which are believed to be endemic to the country. Somalia has unique reptiles of 230 species, of which 80% are believed to be endemic, as well as 29 species of amphibians. There are additional species from Somaliland that have not yet been recorded. Knowledge of marine and coastal species is low, although these species underpin many economic activities on the coast [3]. There are also 24 important bird areas described for Somalia, 12 of which are wetland-based [1].

As an arid and semi-arid country, Somalia’s fragile ecosystems are subjected to harsh weather conditions, erratic and scarce amounts of rainfall, and susceptible to environmental degradation [1]. Nevertheless, Somalia’s rich natural resources provide valuable ecosystem services to the Somali people [4], [5]. The benefits people derive from biodiversity are varied and include provisioning services (traditional medicines, food, water, etc.), socio-cultural services, and regulation services [5]. For instance, biodiversity can play a dominant role in abating the effects of climate change, such as through the restoration of mangroves and corals for artisanal fishing [5], [6].

Somalia’s economy greatly depends on its natural capital: land, rivers, forest, sub-soil assets, and marine resources of fish. However, Somalia’s natural capital is under stress [7] and there is a great deal of evidence pointing to declining trends in the country’s biodiversity and ecosystems, particularly relating to forests, agriculture, rangelands, dry and humid (savannah), marine and coastal resources, wetlands and inland waters, and wildlife [1]. For instance, in 1980, total forest resources were estimated to cover 39 million hectares or approximately 62% of Somalia’s total land area; by 2014, this figure had reduced to just 6.4 million hectares or 10.3% of the country’s total land area [8]. Further, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that 8.2 million trees were cut down for charcoal in Somalia between 2011 and 2017. As a result, forests in Somalia have been depleted to such an extent that the livelihoods of the population have been severely impacted. Widespread deforestation has also led to loss of biodiversity, land degradation, food insecurity and increased vulnerability to flooding and drought [2].

In terms of wildlife, the 2019 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List identified 218 threatened species in Somalia, of which 22 animal and plant species are listed as “critically endangered”, a further 58 as “endangered” and 138 as “vulnerable” [8]. 


The main threats to biodiversity in Somalia include habitat loss and degradation, including deforestation for timber and charcoal production; overexploitation (e.g., Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, poaching); pollution; invasive alien species; and climate change [1], [3], [9]. Increasing vulnerability to climatic extremes, paired with very recent drought events, continue to stress Somalia’s forest and rangeland areas [9], as well as the country’s wildlife [10].

These threats are also underpinned by indirect drivers, such as poverty, insecurity and civil conflict, inadequate knowledge and awareness, and the lack of institutional capacity for conservation [1], [3].


Key policies and governance approach

Somalia has been a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) since its ratification in 2009 [5]. In compliance with its obligations under the provisions of the CBD, Somalia developed its first National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) which was formed through a long consultative process, finalized, and submitted to the secretariat in 2016 [1]. The NBSAP, guided by the CBD Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi Targets, has the following vision “By 2050, Somalia’s biological diversity is appreciated, restored, conserved and its components are utilized in sustainable manner that contributes to the socio-economic development of the nation[5].

To achieve this vision, Somalia’s NBSAP includes a goal and objective, 8 overarching principles, and 14 strategic approaches which will guide the 5 main priority areas. The 5 main priority areas are as follows: I). Creating understanding of the drivers of biodiversity degradation together with response measures; II). Reduce the direct pressures on Somali biodiversity; III). Safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity; IV). Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity with emphasis on sharing it with marginalized groups; and V). Enhanced participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building. These priority areas are supported through 20 Aichi targets, broken down into 71 sub targets that will be achieved through 233 SMART indicators [5].

The protection of biodiversity in Somalia is also shaped by relevant biodiversity related policies, laws, and regulations. This includes the National Environment Policy [2], the 2014 Fisheries Law [8], the National Wildlife Policy, National Wildlife Strategic Plan, and the National Forestry and Wildlife Act [5]. Additionally, a National Charcoal Policy is now in place to counter deforestation [2].

Successes and remaining challenges

Since the 1970s, Somalia has signed a number of important conventions and multilateral agreements that relate to biodiversity. While signalling Somalia’s aspirations with respect to halting biodiversity loss and preventing the extinction of threatened species, the impact of these conventions on the ground has arguably been limited [8].

The gaps and needs that limit the ability of Somalia to strengthen biodiversity conservation and sustainable use have been outlined in the NBSAP.  These include weak institutional capacity and the absence of synergy among biodiversity managing actors. In most areas, a sectoral approach prevails over a holistic and more coherent approach that would generally be more effective. Additionally, the lack of baseline assessments of biodiversity represents a major gap, as any effective management requires a sound baseline assessment. Several institutional areas also need strengthening, including policy and laws, staffing, skills, technology, and networking. Further, the reversal of the prevailing degradation process demands considerable finances, which are not available, thus the financial gap needs to be adequately filled [5]. Currently, due to insecurity in the country, most of the budget is spent on attaining peace and dealing with immediate food insecurity [1]. As such, a systematic approach needs to be developed to move ahead with conservation activities despite security issues [5].

Though Somalia has around 21 protected areas, as of 2020, there has been no effective biodiversity resource management and formal protection for protected areas since the collapse of the central government in 1991. The most serious concern is the lack of effective legislation concerning the management of the protected areas and the absence of a functioning conservation infrastructure. Eleven wildlife areas have been declared since the 1970s, but only two were thought to be functional. In practice, there has been no formal protection offered to any of these sites since the early 1990s [3].

  • Mainstream biodiversity conservation in the overall development policy and planning process [5].
  • Develop natural capital accounts and use these to mainstream the values of key natural resources in national economic policy and planning [9].
  • Enhance collaboration across borders and sectors to respond to existing and emerging threats [3].
  • Review the existing biodiversity-related legislations and identify, prepare and enact new legislations  [2].
  • A basic environmental law, covering the management and coordination of Somalia’s environment, should be developed and ratified by the FGS and the respective FMS [9].
  • Develop a legal framework for the effective management of fisheries resources and the marine environment [2].
  • Potential government revenues from regulated fishing activities are estimated at US$4-17 million per year, which could be utilized to fund co-management schemes necessary for the effective management of fisheries and the marine environment, as well as to invest in sectoral human resource development [2].
  • Establish a mechanism for comprehensive biodiversity monitoring and evaluation activities [1].
  • Update biodiversity policies as new knowledge and scientific developments become known [2].
  • Establish institutional capacity building mechanisms to strengthen policy implementation [2].
  • Build capacity of the stakeholders at national, zonal/interim administrations, regional, district and community levels [5].
  • An essential conservation measure worth exploring is the possibility for REDD+ and efforts needs to focus on REDD readiness for the country [6].
  • Existing regulatory frameworks such as the Environmental Impact Assessments, licenses, fines and taxes on natural based products could be used to finance conservation efforts but this requires a comprehensive review of the taxation laws and systems [1].
  • A systematic approach needs to be developed to move ahead with conservation activities despite security issues [5].
  • Promote the implementation of Nature-based Solutions (NbS) [11].
  • Protected areas will continue to be an essential element of global biodiversity conservation efforts in the post-2020 era. To support an improvement in the management of the country’s protected areas, Somalia could: (i) increase sustainable financing and political support for protected and conserved areas; (ii) enhance capacities for protected and conserved area management; (iii) diversify governance of protected areas and recognise effective local, community and co-management governance initiatives; (iv) address gaps in the coverage of marine and terrestrial ecosystems in protected and conserved area estates; (v) enhance transboundary conservation; and (vi) improve coverage of assessments of management effectiveness, governance and equity [3].

[1] The Clearing-House Mechanism of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2019). Sixth National Report - Somalia.

[2] The Federal Government of Somalia, Somalia National Bureau of Statistics (2022). Voluntary National Review Report 2022.


[4] Government of Somalia. (2022). Somalia’s First Biennial Update Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MoECC), Mogadishu, Somalia.

[5] Ullah, Saleem and Gadain, Hussein (2016). National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) of Somalia, FAO-Somalia.


[7] Dubow, A., The World Bank Group (2022). Somalia needs its trees to restore landscapes and livelihoods. [Online]. Available:

[8] United Nations Somalia (2020). COMMON COUNTRY ANALYSIS 2020.

[9] World Bank. 2020. Somalia Country Environmental Analysis; Somalia Country Environmental Analysis : Diagnostic Study on Trends and Threats for Environmental and Natural Resources Challenges. © World Bank, Washington, DC. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.

[10] The Conversation Trust (UK) Limited (2022). Saving East Africa’s wildlife from recurring drought. [Online]. Available:

[11] Pandeya, B., ODI (2022). Securing Somalia’s future under climate risks and natural capital depletion. [Online]. Available: