Somalia Table of Contents

Somalia is not well-endowed with natural resources that can be profitably marketed internationally, and at independence the economic infrastructure was poorly developed. Throughout all three eras in postindependence Somalia, officials had sought, with mixed results, to develop the economic infrastructure.


Estimates vary, but from 46 to 56 percent of Somalia's land area can be considered permanent pasture. About 14 percent is classified as forest. Approximately 13 percent is suitable for cultivation, but most of that area would require additional investments in wells and roads for it to be usable. The remaining land is not economically exploitable. In the highlands around Hargeysa, relatively high rainfall has raised the organic content in the sandy calcareous soils characteristic of the northern plains, and this soil has supported some dry farming. South of Hargeysa begins the Haud, whose red calcareous soils continue into the Ethiopian Ogaden. This soil supports vegetation ideal for camel grazing. To the east of the Haud is the Mudug Plain, leading to the Indian Ocean coast; this region, too, supports a pastoral economy. The area between the Jubba and Shabeelle rivers has soils varying from reddish to dark clays, with some alluvial deposits and fine black soil. This is the area of plantation agriculture and subsistence agropastoralism.

Practices concerning land rights varied from rural to urban areas. In precolonial times, traditional claims and interclan bargaining were used to establish land rights. A small market for land, especially in the plantation areas of the south, developed in the colonial period and into the first decade of independence. The socialist regime sought to block land sales and tried to lease all privately owned land to cooperatives as concessions. Despite the government's efforts, a de facto land market developed in urban areas; in the bush, the traditional rights of clans were maintained.

The Siad Barre regime also took action regarding the water system. In northern Somalia from 1988 to 1991, the government destroyed almost all pumping systems in municipal areas controlled by the Somali National Movement (SNM) or failing that, stole the equipment. In rural areas, the government poisoned the wells by either inserting animal carcasses or engine blocks that leaked battery acid. As a result, northern Somalis had to rely on older gravity water systems, use poor quality water, or buy expensive water. Following the declaration of the independent Republic of Somaliland in the north in May 1991, the government of the republic began ongoing efforts to reconstruct the water system.

In the south, in the late 1980s onward, as a result of war damage and anarchy, the water situation in the towns tended to resemble that in the north. Few pumping systems were operational in early 1992. Conditions in rural areas varied. Many villages had at least one borehole from which poor quality water could be obtained in buckets; pumps generally were nonfunctioning. Somalis who lived near the Jubba or Shabeelle rivers could obtain their water directly from the river.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress