Official name: Somalia
Area: 637,657 square kilometers (246,201 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Shimbiris (2,416 meters/7,927 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 3 P.M. = GMT
Longest distances: 1,847 kilometers (1,148 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest; 835 kilometers (519 miles) from east-southeast to west-northwest
Land boundaries: 2,366 kilometers (1,470 miles) total boundary length; Djibouti 58 kilometers (36 miles); Ethiopia 1,626 kilometers (1,010 miles); Kenya 682 kilometers (424 miles)
Coastline: 3,025 kilometers (1,880 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 370 kilometers (200 nautical miles)
Somalia is located on the Horn of Africa, a peninsula on the eastern coast of Africa that separates the Gulf of Aden to the north and the Indian Ocean to the east and south. The country also shares borders with Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. With an area of about 637,657 square kilometers (246,201 square miles), the country is slightly smaller than the state of Texas. Somalia is divided into eighteen administrative regions.
In the northwest, along the Gulf of Aden, the Republic of Somaliland, with some 3.5 million people, declared its independence from Somalia in 1991. This claim of independence has yet to be recognized internationally, however. While Somaliland does have a functioning government of its own, it is still officially considered to be a part of Somalia.
Somalia has an arid or semiarid climate. In normal years there are four seasons, two with rain and two essentially without rain. December through March, the time of the northeast monsoon winds, is a very dry season, with moderate temperatures in the north and hot temperatures in the south. April through June is a spring-like rainy season with hot temperatures. July through September, the time of the southwest monsoon winds, is a dry and hot season. October and November is a humid, sporadically rainy season.
Somalia's average temperature is between 25°C and 28°C (77°F and 82°F). Temperatures fall as low as 0°C (32°F) in the mountains of the north and reach as high as 47°C (117°F) on the coasts.
In non-drought times, Somalia's average annual rainfall is only 28 centimeters (11 inches). Droughts can strike Somalia when rainfall decreases even slightly. Their effects are worsened by factors such as over-grazing, erosion, disruptions of nomadic routes, and breakdowns in water access and food distribution. These problems can also cause severe flooding. Major droughts ravaged Somalia in 1974-75, 1984-85, 1992, 1999, and 2001. Flooding caused damage in 1997 and 2002.
The land of Somalia consists mostly of plateau regions that rise to hills in the northern part of the country. Somalia is predominantly scrubland and desert. Only 13 percent of the land is arable, and there are few rivers or other dependable sources of fresh water. Somalia faces daunting food and water management issues that have often reached a state of crisis.
The Gulf of Aden, an inlet of the Indian Ocean, lies to the north of Somalia and separates the country from Yemen. Because it leads to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, the Gulf of Aden is a crucial shipping lane, particularly for petroleum vessels. The eastern coast of Somalia directly faces the Indian Ocean.
There are no major inlets on Somalia's coastline.
The Bajuni is a 125-kilometer- (77-mile-) long coral reef chain of several small islands and many islets or rocks. It includes Coiama (Somalia's largest island, covering 6 square kilometers/2.5 square miles), Ngumi, the Ciovai pair, Ciula (inhabited), Daracas, and Ciandra. Most of the islands are barren and without permanent settlement.
Somalia has the second-longest coastline in Africa (only South Africa's is longer.) The northern coast, along the Gulf of Aden, begins on the west at the border of Djibouti. Sandy beaches are interspersed with rocky cliffs, and the north coast has no reefs. Ras Caseyr (Cape Guardafui) is a rugged headland where the north and east coasts meet. Due south of the Cape, the Point Xaafuun (Ras Hafun) promontory juts out. From there, the Indian Ocean coast runs south in a succession of sandy beaches with little indentation. Along the southern stretch, from Mogadishu to the Kenya border, coral reefs form a barrier to the shore, which lacks natural harbors.
Somalia does not have any permanent lakes. In the Haud, some basins are filled by rains and intermittent floodwater, creating temporary ponds. Somalia also has artificial ponds designed to capture precious seasonal waters for irrigation and drinking. Wells and springs are of great importance to Somalia's water supply.
Somalia's two permanently flowing rivers, the Jubba (Gestro) and Shabeelle, are used for irrigation but are not navigable by large boats. The Jubba and Shabeelle Rivers both have their sources in Ethiopia and run south through Somalia towards the Indian Ocean. The Jubba River is approximately 1,610 kilometers (1,000 miles) long. The Shabeelle River, the country's longest river, has a total length of 2,011 kilometers (1,250 miles), of which only 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) run through Somalia. The Jubba River empties directly into the Indian Ocean in southern Somalia. To its north, the Shabeelle River flows towards the coast, then turns southeast following the coast, dwindling to its end in marshlands and sand flats. In times of heavy rain, the Shabeelle waters can meet those of the Jubba. The area between the two rivers is Somalia's most fertile region.
The Jubba/Shabeelle river system and the seasonal watercourses found in badly eroded, deforested, and desert terrain are highly vulnerable to sporadic flooding.
The wetlands of Somalia surround the outlet of the Jubba River and the lower reaches of the Shabeelle River, where swamp basins are the habitat of birds and reptiles. Some mangrove forests are still found in Somalia, especially along the Jubba outlet, but most have been destroyed by cutting for fuel and fodder.
The two largest watercourses in northern Somalia are the seasonal Daror and Nugaaleed stream systems. Both are usually dry.
About 25 percent of Somalia is desert, usually consisting of sand or gravel mixed with some vegetation. The deserts run along most of Somalia's northern and central coasts and extend into the interior. Desertification is steadily claiming grassland and wooded areas across Somalia.
On the Gulf of Aden coast, the Guban Desert is a hot, dry plain with a system of sandy seasonal watercourses. The arid Hobyo region extends north from Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, along the Indian Ocean coast. It is a desert with low vegetation that is a habitat for birds, reptiles, and antelopes. Over-grazing of the grasses that anchored the dunes in place has destabilized areas of sand dunes along the Indian Ocean coast.
Up to 70 percent of Somalia is a scrubland ecosystem of coarse grass-patches and shrubs. This terrain is especially pervasive in the Haud Plateau region of the north and throughout the south. The scrub vegetation receives minimal rain, but it is resilient. Where there is water, as in the area between the Jubba and Shabelle Rivers, good pastureland results.
Nomadic Somalis pasture their herds of camels, cattle, goats, and sheep on the scrub grasslands. Much of Somalia's grassland is being lost to desertification as a result of over-grazing and the cutting of fodder grass for export to neighboring countries.
Somalia has only 1 percent of its forest cover remaining, mainly located in the far south. Trees are cut for fuel, fodder, and livestock shelters, and there is very little reforestation. The southern forest includes eucalyptus, tall cactus, and mahogany. Trees that provide myrrh and frankincense are also native to Somalia. The north has some acacia scrub and savannah forest.
In the northern region called the Ogo, limestone hills at elevations of 900 to 1,200 meters (2,953 to 3,937 feet) distinguish a rough terrain dissected with dried-up streambeds. The hills are covered with scrub vegetation, which provides grazing for livestock and antelopes.
Somalia's only mountains, the Migiurtinia and Ogo ranges, are in the north, extending from Ethiopia and following the Gulf of Aden coast with a high escarpment until the cliffs form the tip of the Horn of Africa. Somalia's highest peak, Mount Shimbiris, rises 2,416 meters (7,927 feet) at the center of the northern range.
Throughout Somalia, soil erosion has caused gullies and canyons to appear. A lack of roads has led to trucks being driven across pastures, eroding gullies in the dry soil. Seasonal watercourses also carve deep ravines into the landscape.
South of the mountains, the dry Somali Plateau continues from eastern Ethiopia's Ogaden region to become the Ogo Plateau, the Mudug Plain, and the Haud region of central/southwest Somalia. These plateau regions vary in height from 1,829 meters (6,000 feet) in the Ogo to 500 meters (1,640 feet) in the Haud.
There are no major man-made structures affecting the geography of Somalia.
D'Haem, Jeanne. The Last Camel: True Stories About Somalia. Lawrenceville, NJ: Red Sea Press, 1997.
Fox, Mary Virginia. Somalia . New York: Children's Press, 1996.
Hassig, Susan M. Somalia . Cultures of the World. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1998.
Nnoromele, Salome. Somalia . San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 2000.
The United Nations: Agencies in Somalia. http://www.unsomalia.org/infocenter/factsheets.htm (accessed March 20, 2003).