Somalilander digging for water in a wadi
Droughts devastated Somaliland in 2016-2017. Here, a Somalilander digs deep into the sandy bottom of a wadi in search of a subsurface stream.

Water resources management and investment plan for Somaliland

GIS, hydrological modelling and geophysical surveys help drought-ridden Somaliland find more stable water sources

A lack of sustainable water sources makes Somaliland vulnerable to droughts such as the one that has devastated much of the region in 2016-2017. An international team, assembled and led by NIRAS, has been contracted to map out Somaliland’s best options for developing large-scale reliable water sources and water mobilization infrastructure.

In 2016-2017, the worst drought in Somaliland for decades has meant the death of an estimated 50 % of the livestock – a disaster for a rural economy like Somaliland, where people rely on their animals for food and income. Famine and poverty has followed.

A team of experts assembled and led by NIRAS is now searching the entire country to map the best options for building a more stable water supply.

Reservoirs and groundwater

Traditionally, one of the ways Somalilanders have dealt with dry season is by building small dams in streams called wadis. The water in wadis only flows occasionally, but in some wadis the water still flows underground even when the surface is dry. In this case one can dig into the riverbed – but this exposes the water to pollution risks as well as increased evaporation.

One of the approaches in the project is to localise the wadis with a steady subsurface stream. The idea proposed at these is to build underground barriers across the wadi to make a subsurface reservoir, and then install shallow wells to get the water safely out of the wadi’s sand.

The team is also looking at the hilly areas of Somaliland, which have more rainfall than the lowlands, and assessing the possibility of building dams to create large reservoirs. Satellite imaging, GIS and hydrological models are used to identify sites with enough runoff from the associated water catchment areas to maintain a year-round supply. 

In still other areas, geophysical measurements and other techniques are used to map aquifers with sizeable groundwater potential.


number of countries represented on the team.

A worldly team with a locally embedded leader

The team consists of engineers, a water resources planner, a hydrologist, a groundwater specialist, an irrigation specialist, a climate change expert, a sociologist and more from countries such as Canada, Kenya, Uganda, UK and Somaliland.

To ensure an optimal process despite the complexity of the project, team leader Sven Jacobi has temporarily relocated to Somaliland. 

The move has allowed him to get to know local customs, rules and authorities better, which enables him to run a tight ship while taking a multitude of interests into account.


number of experts on the team.

When the assessments and a National IWRM Plan are complete, the team will prepare an Investment Plan for the water mobilization infrastructure and help arrange an international donor conference. 

With the conference Somaliland hopes to attract funds to carry out the investment plan aimed at securing water supply in the future.

IWRM as guiding principle

Apart from locating possible water sources, NIRAS is helping the Somaliland Ministry of Water Resources set up a system for licensing water use and for the staff to be trained in IWRM. IWRM is short for integrated water resources management and is an integrated part of all NIRAS’ water consulting. This means that general capacity building and institutional strengthening of relevant authorities are always part of NIRAS’ effort.