Study warns of depletion of Somalia’s groundwater resources

Garowe/Hargeisa – A hydrogeological study covering north and northwestern Somalia indicates that unguided drilling of boreholes puts the country’s groundwater in jeopardy.

The report by Somalia Water and Land Information Unit (SWALIM) of the Food and Agriculture Organization follows a survey of 1,270 sites in Somaliland and Puntland, where more than half of the water sources are shallow wells. According to the report, unregulated, and in most cases, inappropriate drilling of boreholes in Somalia is leading to over exploitation and pollution of groundwater resources.

“This report is the first of its kind in many years to help in sustainable use ofwater as a key natural resource and we hope, from now on we can build upon this knowledge to manage Somalia’s natural resources more sustainably,” said Luca Alinovi, FAO’s head in Somalia.

Some previous studies, conducted over 20 years ago, created a good base for further hydrogeological works making this one the latest and most up to date. Much of Somalia has suffered over 20 years of on-and-off conflict leading to destruction of key institutions and crucial data. Lack of clear and enforceable regulations only works to worsen the problem. Absence of regulatory frameworks and alternative water sources, means many Somalis turn to use groundwater, which is depleting the country’s groundwater reserves.

“By embarking on a rigorous one-year survey process, we aimed at stopping unregulated drilling of boreholes in Somalia which sees a high number of boreholes sunk every month without any basis,” said Hussein Gadain, the Chief Technical Advisor of SWALIM.

Gadain said drilling of “humanitarian” wells should be extended, but only after a feasibility assessment and under professional supervision. It takes many years for water to accumulate in underground aquifers to levels, which are viable for economic extraction. Groundwater is a valuable resource both in Somalia and throughout the world. Where surface water, such as lakes and rivers, are scarce or inaccessible, groundwater supplies many of the needs of people everywhere. Groundwater depletion or mining, a term often defined as long-term water-level decline caused by sustained groundwater pumping, is a key issue associated with groundwater use. According to the study manyareas are experiencing groundwater depletion.

There is already evidence and cases of decline in groundwater levels in some cities like Borama in Somaliland due to over pumping after the stability seen in the region. In Garowe, the report registered a gradual decline in water level in boreholes to a magnitude of 1.2 m in the 38 days of data recording. Temperature in the borehole steadily increased from 32.12 0C to 32.95 0C (0.83 0C increment) over the same period.

Water quality issues

Concentrations of varying chemical components found in some areas in Somaliland and Puntland rendered groundwater substandard according to an international threshold by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Generally, in Somaliland and Puntland, very few groundwater sources will conform to international standards, ” the report said, adding: “The salt content of the water commonly exceeds 1.5 g/l, which under normal circumstances is the upper limit for human consumption, but acceptance of water with relatively high ion concentrations is a necessity, as there is usually no alternative.”

It further warned of the high possibility of future depletion of aquifers, the underground bed or layer yielding ground water for wells and springs. Due to the high risk of groundwater over-exploitation in major towns of Somaliland and Puntland where the demand for water is growing as the population increases, the towns prioritized for the monitoring of network installation included: Hargeisa, Borama, Berbera and Buaco in Somaliland; and Garowe, Bossaso, Galkayo and Qardho in Puntland.

Information for better livelihoods

Somali authorities in Puntland and Somaliland welcomed the report, launched at the weekend, pledging to work towards sustainable exploitation of Somali groundwater resources.

“The results of this survey will have an impact on improvement of rural development, agriculture and livelihoods of the people of Puntland” said Mr. Abdikani Yusuf Elmi, Puntland’s Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism.

“There is need for hydrogeological information for agencies, universities and researchers and government institutions. This information should be not kept in shelves but it has to be used,” he added.

Abdisalan Mohamed Hassan, Somaliland’s vice minister for Mining, Energy and Water Resources, said that the survey would help the government and Somali communities to make informed decisions in locating groundwater sources.

“Without this information, we encountered a lot of problems because we would drill many boreholes that could not produce water, he said.

“Even where we could succeed to get water, there were many other problems like poor quality of the water and in some cases, the boreholes would produce limited amount of water or run dry after a short period,” he added.

The one-year field survey and desk analysis involved teams of international experts of hydrogeology, remote sensing application, review of previous hydrogeological and geophysical data and collation of all results into maps and reports for Somali authorities as well as the humanitarian and development community.

Source: FAO

Xafiiska Wararka Midnimo,


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