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The Need for a Water Management System in Somalia

Water Management in SomaliaSomalia is a South African country frequently plagued by droughts and floods. The nation is currently receiving the bulk of a $45 million assistance from the United Nations’ aid meant to help Ethiopians, Kenyans and Somalis suffering from a major famine caused by the ongoing drought. To break this cycle of famine, an efficient and affordable water management system in Somalia is desperately needed.

Infrastructure Improvement

The majority of Somalis depend on livestock and agriculture for income. Yet, frequent floods and droughts result in a lack of basic necessities, such as food and water. One way to reduce this lack is to implement an intelligent system capable of storing water during floods to preserve it for coming droughts. Reusing greywater, which is water from sources such as sinks and bathtubs, is one efficient way of preserving and reusing water for crops. Somalia thus needs infrastructure development to control floodwater, especially in the construction of aquifers.

Most Somalis live along the Juba and Shabelle Rivers, but many depend on groundwater. Dug wells, boreholes and springs are the most common sources of water. Somalis heavily rely on groundwater, however, it does not provide enough water in times of drought. The Somalian Water and Land Information Management (SWALIM) partnered with the European Union and Somaliland to improve infrastructure, water and land management. Dr. Hjordis Ogendo of the EU Chard d’Affairs said, “Water and land are critical resources for Somali economy and people’s livelihoods but are also extremely vulnerable to natural disasters.”

Floodplains and Groundwater Replenishment

Infrastructure improvements could help mitigate the cost of restoring the land and relocating those who return to destroyed homes. These improvements include through-reservoirs and flood canals that divert water away from farms and homes. Moreover, California farmers have recently begun implementing floodplains and groundwater replenishment strategies. Don Cameron of Terranova Ranch experimented with flooding his 1,000-acre land with water from a river that was high from recent rains.

Cameron was concerned about the amount of water in the reservoir during a long drought after repeatedly digging wells. The replenishment strategy enables water to soak into the ground and collect in an aquifer. As such, Cameron’s grapevines remained unharmed. This began a trend to keep a steady amount of water in the aquifer and above ground.

For Somalis, an affordable method could be as simple as storing water in aquifers to combat future droughts. Therefore, the floodplains and groundwater replenishment strategy presents one prospective Somali water management system that could improve the future outlook of drought mitigation.

Water Desalination Plants

A sophisticated and long-term solution for a water management system in Somalia includes water desalination plants. Although desalination plants are expensive, there are positive and lasting aspects of investing in a single plant. Desalination plants simply transform salt water from the ocean or sea into potable water. Israel currently receives 40 percent of its water from desalination plants. Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of water usage. Since more than 70 percent of Somalis work in the agriculture industry, water availability is crucial.

Future technological advances may reduce the high cost of constructing and operating desalination plants. Saudi Arabia also relies on desalination plants to desalinate seawater. As a semi-arid country, Somalia possesses an environment similar to that of Saudi Arabia. Although comparatively poor, Somalia could opt for desalination plants in the future once technological advances reduce implementation costs.

Future Outlook

With the help of funding a future water management system in Somalia, the need for external aid could be reduced and lead Somalia out of poverty conditions that result from devastating floods and droughts. Desalination plants are an expensive alternative, yet simple solutions such as the construction of aquifers to store floodwater could help millions of Somalis affected by droughts and floods. The implementation depends on the Somali government and its efforts in improving infrastructure. This includes not only managing water during floods and droughts but also reducing poverty by helping the nomadic herders and farmers making up the majority of Somalis.

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr