Groundwater Depletion and Health Outcomes: Challenges and Opportunities


Groundwater in Somalia is the main source of accessible water, however it is not replenished for a long period of time. The drilling of boreholes to extract groundwater in Somalia has shown to be promising in maintaining agropastoral lands, support grazing lands for herding and daily human usage.  Boreholes are constructed through two methods in Somalia: exploratory wells and production wells. Exploratory wells are drilled in hopes of finding other wells in the process, and in contrast, production wells are constructed to supply water for domestic, municipal and agricultural uses (1). With groundwater, a storage system is needed with proper pumping materials. Storage is constructed above ground and can contain 45 to 100meter cubic of water, which can last up to two days during drought like conditions. Pumps can either be diesel-powered or done manually by hand. Depending on the budget and area, either one can be used (2). However, areas that do not produce much groundwater are encouraged to only have hand pumps. Boreholes, when maintained contains no or quiet low levels of harmful pathogens and prove to be accessible to sustain all life.

Impact on Somalia

In Somalia, “access to safe water is said to be limited to only about 20.5% of the population, of which 53.1% live in urban areas and 4.1% in rural areas (3). Groundwater is unregulated, inconsistently maintained and any policies to protect them are not fully enforced.  During the civil war in 1991, many of the boreholes in different parts of Somalia were not managed. Boreholes were often depleted from their water, contaminated due to the lack of hygienic behaviors and not having proper sanitation protocols to clean the borehole sites. It was estimated by FOA that Somalia has depleted their groundwater by 60%, and with current drought conditions and climate change, the depletion will continue (4).

Groundwater depletion has created an unsustainable reliability that has degraded the country from their natural resources. The depletion can lead to: drying up wells, reduction of water in streams, increase of cost to mitigate overuse water or broken pumps, deterioration of land subsidies, and deteriorating water quality. Pumps and storages that are broken and not restored also lead to the dry up of wells (5). With a new government, these are not easy fixes and are not brought to light to the general public. 

Health Outcomes

Diarrheal diseases such as acute watery diarrhea and water-borne diseases such as cholera are the prime health issues in connection to groundwater depletion. When boreholes are not properly managed, contamination of the water sources becomes immanent (6). Cholera outbreaks are commonly found in regions that have no accessible water or minimum groundwater. These outbreaks are not only prevalent but also, create a high mortality rate, specifically in children that already have compromises immune system.

Women and children, especially in rural cities and IDPs are mainly the burden in health related deaths from the lack of clean accessible water. IDPs, which are often overpopulated deal with the excruciating health impacts, from all sectors being impacted: education, health, income and shelter. Furthermore, women are the prime population that seeks water, from storing it to using it for consumption (7). Children often travel with their mothers or a female guardian to boreholes, and help carry jerry cans in the process. Thus, why it makes sense that they are more likely to get sick or die from cholera and acute watery diarrhea.

In contrast to health outcomes, gender-based violence is a common occurrence in environments that are resourceful but dealing with environmental degradation.  Women are often targeted at borehole sites, as well as children. In regions where the federal government is not visible, but rather, extremist groups, boreholes hold great power (8). Extremists will not only guard and provide boreholes, but will also tax villagers for it. Through taxation, they are also pushed to take children as child soldiers. Women in these regions that are inflicted with GBV are also put into a hostile environment that they are stuck between choosing accessible water, their life source and the continuous act surrounding gender-based violence.

Furthermore, groundwater depletion has created many privatized boreholes, especially in regions that are dependent on water for irrigation and herding. It was found that majority of boreholes were privatized in areas that are currently dealing with the drought. Privatization of boreholes has also lead to the misuse of water, in particular, allowing water to be collected and stored but used superfluously (9).

Recommendation for Action

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program, with the support of UNICEF and WHO have done promising work in different parts of Somalia to deviate the health outcomes associated with groundwater depletion. One of the programs they have invested in is education, through the support of local initiatives. These programs provide awareness and education to rural regions, IDPs and other parts of Somalia where the spread of water-borne diseases and diarrheal disease is prevalent (10).

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is another organization that has supported Somalia through rehabilitating borehole sites with extensive environmental damages. Sites are often kept track of through data system, with the support of different agencies in Somalia and funding from private donors. Water and Land Information Management within FAO has also pushed for sanitation protocols and management with the help of WHO and UNICEF. Through this, boreholes that have been contaminated can be disinfected and cleaned out, which is economically doable (11).

A hydrological investigation is needed before creating boreholes due to playing an important role in sustaining the land and water, but also maintaining the surrounding population (12). Through this system, data can be collected and used to mitigate any concerns. These investigations are also important in providing information that can further improve policies and the overall health of the country.

With all of that in mind, I propose the following to help mitigate groundwater depletion and the health and environmental outcomes form it:

  1. Maintain a cohesive data on all boreholes in Somalia with the intertwining of sharing data amongst Somaliland.
  2. Provide sustainable funding to Somali Health Workers to continue the WASH initiatives, so that when organizations like UNICEF, WHO, OXFAM and etc leave, the Somalis that remain will be able to continue to provide education, awareness and resources to their surrounding areas.
  3. Implement policies that provide protection to groundwater in Somalia.
  4. Create funding that can be managed equitable.


With a fairly new government, Somalia’s federal government needs continuous support from local governments and foreign governments with no ill intentions. Through support, borehole management and surveillance can be further implemented in all cities. However, there needs to be a strong push towards enforcing policies to better protect the environment and the Somali people.

Another limitation is the lack of cultural awareness in groundwater depletion. Water being a source of life, restricting boreholes to detour depletion can often be misinterpreted. This also connects to the many privatized boreholes in Somalia and Somaliland, which is often not brought to the general public’s attention. The government cannot interfere with private water sources, since it’s a sticky situation. However, the federal government needs to make sure they are following policies that protect the environment.

Furthermore, restriction of creating boreholes being negatively viewed, there is also a strong emphasis of security. Many regions that are under the hands of extremists cannot be removed until proper security is provided. However, that will take time and money. Outside humanitarian agents struggle to provide accessible water to these regions, making it difficult to improve the health outcomes and environmental impacts. However, if there is a strong cohesive plan that Somalia can develop with the support of different organizations, a foundation that connects security to the health and environment can be implemented.


  1. Somalia Democratic Republic Ministry of Mineral and Water Resources. Water Development Agency. 1985 Retrieved from:
  2. Water Well Design and Construction. 2003. Retrieved from:
  3. Water Resources of Somalia. 2007. Retrieved from:
  4. Water and Land Information Management Retrieved from:
  5. USGS Groundwater Depletion. 2016 Retrieved from:
  6. Deadly Cholera/Acute Watery Diarrhea outbreak in Somaliland lays bare devastating vulnerability of millions. 2017 Retrieved from:
  7. 2018 Somalia Humanitarian Needs Overview . 2017. Retrieved from:
  8. Somalia: UNHCR Drought Response at 30 September 2017. 2017 Retrieved from:
  9. Somalia Water and Sanitation Profile. 2009. Retrieved from:
  10. Somalia WASH Cluster Retrieved from:
  11. UNICEF Cleaning and disinfecting boreholes. 2011. Retrieved from:
  12. SWALIM Introduces Telemetric Groundwater Monitoring Stations in Somalia. 2016 Retrieved from:


Hello everyone!

My name is Hanna (@NeuroTrees). I started this blog to help bring awareness and push for different dialogues on important issues. These issues are rooted in Environmental Sustainability and Public Health. Personally, I love combining different disciplines to solve complex issues and find that to be the best mode for collaboration.

Besides my interest in these themes, I am Somali and have always been interested in my country’s history, culture, language and complex issues. I always found myself connected to Somalia’s rich ecological history, which is often not spoken about. It wasn’t until my last two years of my undergraduate degree that I indulged in Somalia’s environment, which is connected to health issues, decrease in biodiversity and ecological degradation, and the lack of policy protecting its people and environment.

I wanted to keep my first post brief, so I’ll get to the goals of this blog:

Goal 1: Educate Somali youth(s) and young adults about the environmental issues facing Somalis in the diaspora, and back home in Somalia in a manner that is understandable and engaging.

Goal 2: Create a resource list that consists of ecological related issues in PDFs. I will also try to see if there is any current/on-going research relating to Somalia’s environment.

Goal 3: Develop discussions through this blog’s twitter handle (@geediyobiyo) and with the hashtag: #geediyobiyo

Goal 4: Have someone help me translate environmental terms from English to Somali, with great tools to motivate Somali youth.

Goal 5: Provide a safe but educational space. I am always open to learn as much as I love to teach and engage. I do not want this blog to become one that is bias or lacking sustenance. I enjoy constructive criticisms.