Sustainability and Environmental challenges

Somalia is one of the states in Africa with extreme vulnerability to climate change and variability, combined with a limited capacity to effectively mitigate or respond to the impending  impacts. Climate change poses risks to livestock, agriculture, forest ecosystems, water resources, energy resources, transport, public health and human settlements.
Affected populations are forced to seek alternative coping strategies during droughts, which include but are not limited to clan‐based support, migration to nearby urban centres, and  conscription into armed groups. Migration creates further competition over already overstretched resources and services, which can result in tensions between migrants and host  communities. There is also evidence that exposure to climate change stressors increases civil unrest among the Somali clans due to competition over limited natural resources. Flooding risks meanwhile exist along the Shabelle and Jubba Rivers, which have densely populated agricultural areas.
The impacts of climate change–induced hazards and disasters are amplified inadequate coping mechanisms to shocks and insufficient social safety nets, especially for the most vulnerable.

Analysis of drivers of environmental degradation

An estimated 8.2 million trees were cut down for charcoal in Somalia between 2011 and 2017, increasing land degradation, desertification, food insecurity and vulnerability to flooding and drought.
The principle causes of land degradation are overgrazing, unsustainable agriculture, the over exploitation of forests and woodland, and resettlement and urbanization. It was estimated in 2011 that 31 per cent of the total land area of Somalia was degraded, with the largest shares attributable to reductions in tree cover and soil erosion due to water.

Despite recent progress, weak or non-existent government over much of the last 30 years has led to over-exploitation by Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) foreign fishing vessels, and pollution resulting from oil spillages and the dumping of toxic waste. Rising sea levels due to climate change, rapid urbanization and an increase in the coastal population have resulted in pollution and habitat destruction in both offshore and nearshore areas. The prospect of offshore oil and gas exploration poses further potential risks to Somalia’s marine environment. Somalia has no marine protected areas.

The majority of overfishing in offshore waters is accounted for by foreign illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing vessels. It is conservatively estimated that between 1981 and 2014, IUU fishing by foreign vessels landed over three times the catch of domestic vessels, often targeting the same fish species.

Analysis of combined environmental impacts

Various environmental challenges keep Somalia’s inhabitants under the constant threat of hunger and famine, while risks to lives and livelihoods further aggravate existing drivers of conflict. More broadly, the economic, financial and fiscal instability of the country impacts governance, social cohesion and people’s ability to satisfy their needs.
Somalia’s economy is heavily dependent on livestock, agriculture, fisheries and forestry, which are significantly affected by climate change, threatening sustainability. Somalia’s troubled investment climate, which is due to poor governance, insecurity and weak rule of law, is likely to continue to deter foreign investment. Weaknesses in the public financial system – including poor collection of revenues, negligible disbursement of funds to states and sectors, and a paucity of financial institutions – further constrain Somalia’s social and economic development.

This lack of capital investment further limits access to physical infrastructure and basic social services such as health and education. Continued urbanization and dislocation will continue to increase pressures on existing strained infrastructure and services. This in turn leaves Somalis particularly exposed to recurring cycles of drought, food insecurity and water-borne diseases. Ultimately, these compounding economic issues create more conflict and expose vulnerable groups to human rights abuses. The situation has the potential to deteriorate, which could ultimately lead to civil disorder and increased foreign interference for geopolitical or resource-related intentions, thereby threatening the stability of the state.

Data Gaps

Somalia has very weak national statistical and data management capacity, which impacts the ability to identify resource gaps and to prioritize resource allocations in an informed manner so as to design interventions that maximize impact. This results in suboptimal outcomes and an imbalance in funding across sectors.

Moving forward, the new National Bureau of Statistics plans to conduct a census within the lifetime of the NDP-91 .The President has signed into law the Statistics Act, which aims to transform the institution into a  semi-autonomous Bureau of Statistics with enhanced capacity to spearhead the collection and compilation of national statistics.

  • 1Ministry of Planning – The Federal Republic of Somalia: NDP-9
Policy and strategy reponses

While significant challenges remain in accelerating progress on the SDGs in this “Decade of Action”, there is reason for optimism.
The NDP-9 provides an overarching planning framework for the Government of Somalia and international partners, and is based on a comprehensive, multidimensional poverty reduction strategy based on sustainable,  inclusive and green growth and economic diversification. Somalia’s move towards debt relief and the prospect of access to concessional financing is a further positive development.
However, real progress can only be achieved through the concerted efforts of the Government of Somalia at all levels, civil society, the private sector, international development partners and other stakeholders to  comprehensively work across the humanitarian, development and peace nexus to ensure that peace and development are truly sustainable, and leaves no one behind.

Green growth approaches should be advanced to maximize synergies between environmental, social and economic development outcomes while managing the costs, trade-offs and uncertainties of the transition. Approaches involving hydropower development, rural cooking technologies, livestock value chains and forestry development offer prospects of immediate economic growth and large carbon abatement potential.


Christophe Matthew Hodder

UN’s Climate Security and Environment Advisor to Somalia

UNEP focal point for Somalia.


  • UN Common Country Analysis: Somalia 2020 -  an independent, impartial and collective assessment of the situation in Somalia.  Anchored in and framed around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the CCA draws from and adds to existing analysis and resources across the UN system and beyond in Somalia.
Specific documentation from the country
DataViz - Iframe