Our Perspectives

World Water Day: In Somalia, the answer is long term solutions delivered right here and now

By Abdul Qadir, UNDP Somalia Resilience and Climate Change Portfolio Manager

On World Water Day we are highlighting the preciousness and scarcity of safe clean water, with 1.2 billion people around the world without access to safe drinking water.

In Somalia, lack of access to water is at the centre of an ongoing humanitarian crisis. Due to a number of failed rainy seasons, Somalia is suffering from a severe, prolonged drought which has resulted in 5.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and a cumulative total of more than 2 million displaced, as whole communities have been forced to migrate in search of water for their families and for their livestock.  A Drought Impact Needs Assessment carried out in 2017 by the Federal Government, with the support of the European Union (EU), the World Bank and the United Nations (UN), has found over USD 1.7 billion in recovery and resilience needs due to the drought.

Such periods of drought are cyclical in Somalia, which is particularly vulnerable to weather events. The vast concentration of Somalia’s rural population is located in flood and/or drought prone regions and in conflict-ridden areas, in which water and other resource scarcity as a result of extreme weather events is escalating violence and political instability.  60% of the population are nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists due to the unproductive nature of landscape that is arid or semi-arid. Pastoralists are dependent upon rain-fed rangeland for their livestock and tend to have very few fixed assets, putting pastoralist communities at high risk when a drought occurs. Such vulnerability, along with other factors, means Somalia has been plunged into humanitarian crisis when rainy season recurrently fail. The situation is compounded by the current lack of national capacities to prepare and respond to disasters.  

Cycles of drought don't need to become a crisis

But such crises can be averted. Building communities’ ability to adapt to climate change by investing in long term water infrastructure projects, building capacities in national institutions, and promoting livelihoods adaptation and diversification, can help build resilience and ensure that drought need not result in lack of access to water, and flooding need not mean destruction of land and livelihoods.

In its 2017-2019 National Development Plan (NDP) and its National Adaption Programme of Action on Climate Change (NAPA), the Somali Government is prioritising long term resilience to drought and climate change.  UNDP is working with the Government and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), as well as other UN partners, to build and rehabilitate water infrastructure and promote integrated water management, to ensure water access and supply to communities.

In 2017, UNDP, in support of the Government and with funding from GEF,  built four large natural earth dams, each holding 30,000-50,000 cubic metres of water, repaired and constructed over 80 small water storage facilities, as well as completed other water infrastructure projects such as canals, water diversions, boreholes, and wells across the country. This means that, in 2017, close to 750,000 people gained greater access to safe clean water through water infrastructure and ecosystem projects across Somalia.

A key part of this work is that the Somali Government and the communities themselves have been central to the process of building earth dams and repairing and building water infrastructure facilities, and water infrastructure projects are handed over to the ownership and care of the communities and the Government. UNDP also works with communities to raise awareness and deliver training on the effects of climate change and how to respond and prepare for drought and floods. In 2017 we reached 45,000 people with these awareness raising initiatives.

Recovery and Resilience

From the findings of the Drought Impact Needs Assessment, the Somali Government, with the support of the UN, EU and World Bank, is developing a long-term plan for recovery and resilience, called a Recovery and Resilience Framework (RRF). Included in the RFF will be strategies for sustainable management of water resources. Urgent, life-saving humanitarian response must continue to address the ongoing crisis as a result of drought. But, if Somalia is to break the cycle of recurrent crises, we must deliver long term solutions to water access, in parallel to humanitarian relief. UNDP, through water infrastructure projects, and increased community and Government awareness of ecosystem protection, is giving communities the tools to adapt to climate change and extreme weather events now and far into the future.


Blog post Somalia Climate change and disaster risk reduction Water and sanitation

UNDP Around the world