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Somalia - Environment

Climate is the primary factor in much of Somali life. For the large nomadic population, the timing and amount of rainfall are crucial determinants of the adequacy of grazing and the prospects of relative prosperity. During droughts such as occurred during 1974-75 and 1984-85, starvation can occur. There are some indications that the climate has become drier in the last century and that the increase in the number of people and animals has put a growing burden on water and vegetation.

Floods and drought could undermine peacebuilding efforts in Somalia. Severe weather events create recruitment opportunities for Al-Shabaab and other terrorist groups. On the other hand, tackling the negative effects of climate change on peace operations is a potential opportunity to build a positive relationship between environmental resilience and sustainable peace.

Somalia, long prone to extreme weather conditions, experiences some of the world’s highest mean annual temperatures, temperatures have been increasing gradually since 1960 and are projected to rise by 3.2 to 4.3 degrees Celsius by the end of the twenty-first century. Meanwhile, rainfall is erratic, varying widely between seasons and from year to year. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects more rain for Somalia in the coming decades, which will increase the risk of flooding and soil erosion.

The resulting climate uncertainty is having a direct impact on everyday life among Somalis, who depend heavily on agriculture for their livelihoods. It also intensifies competition for natural resources and generates conflict between herders and farmers. Moreover, local conflicts can quickly escalate to the national level, with disagreements over natural resources being absorbed into the country’s larger political dynamics and leading to deadly violence. The evidence is clear that climate-related shocks and stresses can destabilize Somalia’s prospects for peace.

By early 2017 herds of animals were dying across Somalia following two failed rainy seasons. In Somaliland, at least 40 percent of goats and sheep have perished, amounting to more than 10 million animals. The United Nations warned of famine, and says more than 6 million people need food aid already in all of Somalia.

Due to its recent history, there is a limited store of scientific knowledge and research specific to Somalia, which might help to characterize the likely impacts of climate change. However, studies on the impacts of climate change for the Horn of Africa in general predict that the region will be facing more extreme and frequent droughts and floods. These climatic disasters are also the main existing hazards in Somalia. Severe droughts interrupted by devastating floods occur frequently and result in large-scale starvation and the death of thousands of people and livestock. It is anticipated that the nation’s vulnerability to climate change will be intensified by its extremely high dependency on the natural resource base and low Human Development Indicators.

Somalia is located on the east coast of Africa north of the Equator and, with Ethiopia and Djibouti, is often referred to as the Horn of Africa. It comprises Italy's former Trust Territory of Somalia and the former British Protectorate of Somaliland. The coastline extends 2,720 kilometers (1,700 mi.).

The northern part of the country is hilly, and in many places the altitude ranges between 900 and 2,100 meters (3,000-7,000 ft.) above sea level. The central and southern areas are flat, with an average altitude of less than 180 meters (600 ft.). The Juba and the Shebelle Rivers rise in Ethiopia and flow south across the country toward the Indian Ocean. The Shebelle, however, does not reach the sea.

Major climatic factors are a year-round hot climate, seasonal monsoon winds, and irregular rainfall with recurring droughts. Mean daily maximum temperatures range from 30oC to 40oC (85o F-105oF), except at higher elevations and along the east coast. Mean daily minimums usually vary from about 15oC to 30oC (60oF-85oF). The southwest monsoon, a cool sea breeze, makes the period from about May to October the most pleasant season at Mogadishu. The December-February period of the northeast monsoon also is comfortable. The "angambili" periods that intervene between the two monsoons (October-November and March-May) are hot and humid.

Somalis recognize four seasons, two rainy (gu and day) and two dry (jiilaal and hagaa). The gu rains begin in April and last until June, producing a fresh supply of pasture and for a brief period turning the desert into a flowering garden. Lush vegetation covers most of the land, especially the central grazing plateau where grass grows tall. Milk and meat abound, water is plentiful, and animals do not require much care. The clans, reprieved from four months' drought, assemble to engage alternately in banter and poetic exchange or in a new cycle of hereditary feuds. They also offer sacrifices to Allah and to the founding clan ancestors, whose blessings they seek. Numerous social functions occur: marriages are contracted, outstanding disputes are settled or exacerbated, and a person's age is calculated in terms of the number of gus he or she has lived. The gu season is followed by the hagaa drought (July-September) and the hagaa by the day rains (October-November). Next is jiilaal (December-March), the harshest season for pastoralists and their herds.

Most of the country receives less than 500 millimeters of rain annually, and a large area encompassing the northeast and much of northern Somalia receives as little as 50 to 150 millimeters. Certain higher areas in the north, however, record more than 500 millimeters a year, as do some coastal sites. The southwest receives 330 to 500 millimeters. Generally, rainfall takes the form of showers or localized torrential rains and is extremely variable.

Mean daily maximum temperatures throughout the country range from 30° C to 40° C, except at higher elevations and along the Indian Ocean coast. Mean daily minimum temperatures vary from 20° C to more than 30° C. Northern Somalia experiences the greatest temperature extremes, with readings ranging from below freezing in the highlands in December to more than 45° C in July in the coastal plain skirting the Gulf of Aden. The north's relative humidity ranges from about 40 percent in midafternoon to 85 percent at night, varying somewhat with the season. During the colder months, December to February, visibility at higher elevations is often restricted by fog.

Temperatures in the south are less extreme, ranging from about 20° C to 40° C. The hottest months are February through April. Coastal readings are usually five to ten degrees cooler than those inland. The coastal zone's relative humidity usually remains about 70 percent even during the dry seasons.

Physiographically, Somalia is a land of limited contrast. In the north, a maritime plain parallels the Gulf of Aden coast, varying in width from roughly twelve kilometers in the west to as little as two kilometers in the east. Scrub-covered, semiarid, and generally drab, this plain, known as the guban (scrub land), is crossed by broad, shallow watercourses that are beds of dry sand except in the rainy seasons. When the rains arrive, the vegetation, which is a combination of low bushes and grass clumps, is quickly renewed, and for a time the guban provides some grazing for nomad livestock.

Inland from the gulf coast, the plain rises to the precipitous northward-facing cliffs of the dissected highlands. These form the rugged Karkaar mountain ranges that extend from the northwestern border with Ethiopia eastward to the tip of the Horn of Africa, where they end in sheer cliffs at Caseyr. The general elevation along the crest of these mountains averages about 1,800 meters above sea level south of the port town of Berbera, and eastward from that area it continues at 1,800 to 2,100 meters almost to Caseyr. The country's highest point, Shimber Berris, which rises to 2,407 meters, is located near the town of Erigavo.

Southward the mountains descend, often in scarped ledges, to an elevated plateau devoid of perennial rivers. This region of broken mountain terrain, shallow plateau valleys, and usually dry watercourses is known to the Somalis as the Ogo.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 11:45:53 ZULU