The scarcity of water is one of the most pressing problems in Somalia [1], as water is the backbone of social, economic, and environmental growth and prosperity. Somalia can be divided into 9 major water basins with the Juba and Shabelle rivers being very important [2], as the only two perennial rivers in the country [3], [4]. The Juba and Shabelle rivers, both emerging in the Ethiopian Highlands, supply southern Somalia with surface water and floodplains and thus also with fertile soils for agricultural production [5]. Both rivers, however, experience significant seasonal fluctuations [1]. For instance, between 2016 and 2018, sections of the Shabelle River dried out on three occasions, due to poor rains during the rainy seasons both in the Ethiopian Highlands and in Somalia [5], [6]. Further, for the last two decades, due to climatic fluctuation and human induced degradations, flooding in the riverine areas along the Juba and Shabelle rivers has increased in scale and recurrence [7]. In 2019, the Shabelle river flooded twice in the Gu' and Deyr rainy seasons washing away farmlands, destroying infrastructure and interrupting livelihoods in many settlements [8].

Most of the country’s landmass, particularly in the north, is classified as Arid and Semi-Arid Land (ASAL) [1], where rainfall is periodic and irregular [9]. This land is relatively unproductive for agriculture, making nomadic pastoralism the only potential livelihood option. Additionally, recharge of aquifers is relatively small in the ASALs and rainwater run-off often cannot be captured. Water storage is another important issue, as the annual evapotranspiration rate can range from 1.5 to 6 times the amount of annual rainfall, which is already low to begin with. Throughout Somalia, trends of reduced surface water availability, reduced groundwater reserves, and increased occurrences of drought and flood events have been observed [1]. This decline in freshwater availability has resulted in fierce competition over water resources in Somalia, as well as conflicts in some regions [2].

Despite these negative trends, the proportion of the population using basic drinking water services in Somalia has increased, from 29% in 2006 to 66% in 2019. But disparities remain; according to the 2020 Somali Health and Demographic Survey (SDHS), a considerable 78.6% of the urban population are using basic drinking water services, compared to 53.5% of the rural population [10]. Furthermore, field reports suggest that 40% of existing water sources are non-functional, due to weak water supply management models, high operational and maintenance costs, lack of supply chain of spare parts and technical limitation of service providers. Additionally, groundwater provides an estimated 80% of the domestic supply, but the water table is deep, ranging between 100 and 300 m, and high salinity in most parts of the country makes water quality poor [1], [3]. Most groundwater sources in Somalia have salinity levels above 2,000μS/cm, which is over the required standard for drinking water [1].

According to Somalia’s Voluntary National Review, 40% of Somalia’s population uses basic sanitation services across the country, comprised of 33.6% rural population and 49.5% urban population. In addition, significant progress has been recorded in the proportion of people practicing open defecation, which has decreased from 35% in 2015 to 18% in 2019 [10]. Nevertheless, waterborne diseases are common and typically severe in the country, in part because of the high levels of open defecation. UNICEF reports that waterborne diseases are responsible for the deaths of nearly a quarter of all children under five [1].

Growing demands for water and its increasing scarcity is a growing concern in Somalia. At the same time, water resources remain vulnerable to climatic deterioration and various types of pollution [2]. Over the last two decades, continued droughts in Somalia have devastated the water sector [3]. For instance, the latest drought that Somalia is facing, following five consecutive failed rainy seasons [11], has resulted in water shortages reaching critical levels, with an estimated 8 million people lacking access to safe water and sanitation facilities (as of the beginning of 2023) [12]. Partners report that about 1,800 of 8,200 water sources in the country are non-functional and require urgent rehabilitation. Further, this poor access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene, has contributed to a surge in outbreaks of cholera, with cases reported in 26 districts of the country [13].


Somalia is a generally dry and arid country, with poor rainfall that averages only 100 mm in the northeast and between 200 and 300 mm in the central plateaus annually: most of the country receives less than 500 mm of rain. As such, the unavailability of water is one of the most pressing problems in the country. Additionally, with only 2 permanent rivers (Jubba and Shabelle rivers), Somalia’s water resource problems are compounded by the fact that over 65% of the catchments of the two main waterways lie mostly in neighbouring Ethiopia [1].  

With rapid population growth, the current per capita levels of water in the country are expected to decline in the coming decades. Additionally, the quality of groundwater is expected to deteriorate due to overexploitation, increasing population and pollution. These challenges will be exacerbated by climate change which has been manifested through recurrent floods and droughts. With the mean annual rainfall expected to increase by 3% by 2050 (using the 1981- 2000 reference period) and coupled with increasing variability, more severe periods of drought and floods are expected in the future [2]. Compounding all these problems is the fact that governance in the water sector is still lacking, especially outside of the relatively more stable regions of Puntland and Somaliland [1]. Conflicts between farmers and pastoralists are common due to the lack of clear policies and enforcement mechanisms on water rights [14].

The challenges related to sanitation in Somalia involve various issues, from low service coverage of poor-quality sanitation services to the lack of a legislative and institutional framework. Additionally, conflicts in Somalia have weakened the country’s water supply and sanitation infrastructure [3].


Key policies and governance approach

To regulate the use of water resources, the Government of Somalia drafted a National Water Resources Law in 1984. The draft law, which was never formally endorsed by Parliament, addressed the issue of water rights. Remaining issues were addressed in the new draft Water Law of 1990. However, the enactment and implementation of this new Law was not finalised when the government collapsed in 1991. After 2004, international support was given to both Somaliland and Puntland to draft and enter into force water policies for their respective territories [1].

More recently, the Federal Government of Somalia has developed a National WASH Sector Policy and a Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan provides an overall framework for the WASH sector and will guide WASH sector investments from 2019 to 2023. The Plan envisions “Adequate and safe water, hygiene and sanitation for all” and sets six strategic objectives [15].

Additionally, the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources has developed the National Water Resource Strategy (NWRS) for the period 2021-2025, which provides actions to safeguard Somalia’s water resources [10]. The Vision of the NWRS is “Sustainable, equitable and secure water for national unity, growth and well-being, for all and in harmony with nature”, which will be achieved through 3 Strategic Goals: (i) Establishing a Functional Water Sector Governance Framework; (ii) Operationalising Integrated Water Resources Management; and (iii) Improving the Provision of Priority Water Services. Complimenting the NWRS, a NWRS Roadmap has also been developed to provide clarity on key priorities and supporting actions, roles and responsibilities, as well as milestones and targets [2].

Furthermore, through the National Environment Policy (2019), which aims to mainstream environmental concerns into all development activities in the country, the government seeks to adopt approaches to deal with the management of the Somalia’s water resources [9].

Successes and remaining challenges

SDG Indicator 6.5.1 tracks the degree of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) implementation in a country, by assessing the four key components of IWRM: (i) Enabling environment (policies, plans and laws to support IWRM); (ii) Institutions and participation (capacity, participation and coordination at all levels); (iii) Management instruments (instruments to monitor and manage water resources and ecosystems); and (iv) Financing (budgets and revenue raising for IWRM and infrastructure) [16], [17]. In the 2017 self-evaluation for SDG Indicator 6.5.1, Somalia was the lowest scoring country in the world, scoring only 10 out of 100, showing very low implementation of IWRM. However, in the 2020 update, which took place as a multi-stakeholder consultation organised by the SDG 6 IWRM Support Programme, Somalia’s score significantly increased to 22 out of 100 [17]. Nevertheless, this score still represents low implementation of IWRM in Somalia.

According to the country’s 2020 self-evaluation, the main challenges for IWRM implementation in Somalia include: limited sector governance and cooperation; lack of equitable, productive and sustainable WASH services; climate change; absence of environmental sustainability for protecting the water resources base, as well as associated ecosystems; the need for greater investment for the sustainable and efficient management of water use at the regional level; and limited government budget allocation for water, including water resources infrastructure [18].

Despite copious investments in the water and sanitation sector made by NGOs, multilateral development banks, and the private sector, the outlook for access to safe and adequate water supplies in Somalia remains low [10]. Overall, the institutional set up of the WASH sector remains largely under-resourced in terms of financial, human, and logistic resources. There are serious capacity gaps in available human resources, management systems and accountability. Roles are not clear and often overlapping among different government institutions. At the same time, the country lacks a harmonized and coordinated legal, regulatory and policy framework, as much of the policies and acts that are in place remain either in draft form or are inconsistent with implementation, monitoring and evaluation frameworks [1], [3].

Initiatives and Development Plans

Supported by the Global Environment Facility’s Least Developed Countries Fund, UNDP has been implementing a four-year project (2019-2023) in Somalia which aims to increase the country’s capacity to manage water resources sustainably, in order to build the climate resilience of rural communities. Working with a range of development partners, as well as traditional leaders, women’s groups, local NGOs and community-based organizations, the ‘Support for Integrated Water Resources Management to Ensure Water Access and Disaster Reduction for Somalia's Pastoralists’ project focuses on (i) National policy reform and development of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM); (ii) Capacity-building at the national, state, district and local levels; (iii) Infrastructure for improved climate and water monitoring; and (iv) Capture and sharing of best practices on IWRM. The project also provides training for pastoralists and small-scale farmers, men and women, on how to sustainably produce farming and livestock products [19].

The World Bank has approved a $70 million International Development Association (IDA*) grant to develop resilient water, agriculture, and environmental services for rural communities in Somalia’s drylands. The Somalia Water for Rural Resilience Project named ‘Barwaaqo’ comes at a critical time when Somalia is facing an unprecedented multi-season drought and worsening food insecurity. The Barwaaqo project will expand services in Somaliland, Puntland, Galmudug, and the South West States while expanding to include two additional federal member states—Hirshabelle and Jubbaland—where the project will focus on the areas situated away from the floodplains of the Shabelle and the Jubba rivers. This project will provide water to 500,000 people, representing approximately 15% of the rural population, who currently only have access to limited services and unimproved or surface water. For better water storage across Somalia’s drylands, opportunities exist within the Barwaaqo project to deploy low-cost, small-scale water harvesting and storage technologies [20].

  • Developing a National Policy to ensure sustainable water management should be a priority [10].
  • Develop a National Water Law based on Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), through wide consultation with all stakeholders at all levels [18].
  • Somalia will need to adapt its water resources management to increase its water-related climate resilience. The Global Water Partnership has been supporting Somalia to raise the ambition of its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), while also supporting a readiness proposal with the Green Climate Fund. It is recommended that Somalia follow this pathway, taking IWRM as an integrator for its green and sustainable development [17].
  • Put in place policy and legal frameworks that facilitate the effective participation of vulnerable groups in water resources planning and management and provide special funding for such engagement [18].
  • Provide capacity building to relevant institutions to facilitate effective IWRM implementation [18].
  • Scale-up grants that come through different channels [17].  
  • Establish a pool of funding for resources coming to the country through different channels [17].
  • Establish Public Private Partnerships (PPP) systems so that the government can channel funds through the private sector [17].
  • Establish a National Water Sector Development Fund [17].
  • Systematized Tariffs, taxes from water suppliers/companies could boost revenue [17].
  • An independent water management body could be created to lead IWRM efforts [17].
  • Educate the people and the leadership of Somalia on the importance of the water resources management, through well-orchestrated media coverage on the issue [17].
  • Create a bilateral agreement with Ethiopia on water sharing and management [17].
  • There is urgent need for Transboundary data sharing in the countries [18].
  • Increase the coverage of the national water monitoring system in Somalia, with corresponding capacity for service delivery [18].

[1] 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.

[2] Federal Government of Somalia - Ministry of Energy and Water Resources (2021). National Water Resource Strategy 2021-2025 Final Roadmap.

[3] UNICEF Somalia Country Office (2020). WATER, SANITATION & HYGIENE (WASH) PROFILE.


[5] Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, adelphi (2022). Climate Risk Profile Somalia.

[6] SWALIM (2022). THE DRY RIVER BEDS OF SHABELLE RIVER. [Online]. Available:

[7] 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.

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

[9] The Federal Republic of Somalia (2019). National Environmental Policy.

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

[11] IOM (2022). SOMALIA DROUGHT RESPONSE November 2022.


[13] OCHA (2023). Somalia: Drought response & famine prevention (15 February - 15 March 2023).

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


[16] UN Water (2023). Indicator 6.5.1 “Degree of integrated water resources management implementation (0-100)”. [Online]. Available:

[17] UNEP-DHI Centre, Global Water Partnership (2022). Report of support to the Federal Government of Somalia in raising awareness and capacity in critical water-related issues in order to advance Integrated Water Resources Management.

[18] Ministry of Energy and Water Resources (2020). SDG Indicator 6.5.1 IWRM Survey: National reporting on status of IWRM implementation 2020. [Online]. Available:

[19] United Nations Development Programme (2023). Support for Integrated Water Resources Management to Ensure Water Access and Disaster Reduction for Somalia's Pastoralists. [Online]. Available:

[20] The World Bank Group (2022). World Bank Grants $70 Million for Delivery of Water, Agriculture, Livestock, and Environmental Services in Somalia. [Online]. Available: