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Somalia - Main Details

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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Somalia is one of the biodiversity-rich countries in the Horn of Africa with a high level of endemic species. It is however an arid and semi-arid country with fragile ecosystems subjected to harsh weather conditions, erratic and scarce amounts of rainfall, and susceptible to environmental degradation. An IUCN assessment (1993) revealed that, apart from the 150 wild mammal and 645 bird species recorded, 3,028 species of plants are found in Somalia, of which 518 are believed to be endemic. There are 24 important bird areas described for Somalia, twelve of which are wetland-based. However, there is a great deal of evidence pointing to declining trends in biodiversity and ecosystems, particularly as relates to forestry, agriculture, rangelands, dry and humid (savannah), marine and coastal, wetlands and inland waters, and wildlife.

The mainstay of the Somali economy has traditionally been dominated by pastoralism and crop production, followed by fisheries and forestry, supporting over 80% of the population. The Boswell criteria and sacra trees are highly-prized for producing frankincense however their natural regeneration is threatened by overgrazing. Somalia is also a large producer of myrrh and gum Arabic. The Cordeauxia edulis plant which produces yicib nuts in the central regions is now thought to be endangered. The level of agricultural production, including bananas, cotton, rice, mango trees, and citrus, is generally far below its peaks of the late 1980s. Notably, at least 151 plants in Somalia have known medicinal values. Livestock continues to dominate exports, followed by sesame, charcoal, fish, hides and skins. Prior to the civil war, livestock and livestock products accounted for 80% of the country’s exports. However, goats and sheep which constituted a population of about 35 million in 1988 have been reduced to 14 million.

There is also evidence of a decline in rangelands biodiversity (grass and herbs, trees and bushlands) affecting certain parts of the country, particularly those close to urban areas, and areas such as the Sool Plateau in the northern part of the country. An IUCN survey (2006) found Somali’s northern ranges to be most seriously degraded (as much as 50%) owing to steep topography, large numbers of livestock, and proximity to ports for livestock export. Over much of the country, many areas around water boreholes and wells are degraded.

At present, the harvesting of offshore and inshore fish resources is not sustainable. Marine resources have been in great decline due to the current trend of unregulated, uncontrolled and illegal fishing. The consequences of these activities are illustrated by the fact that the once substantial and valuable lobster export trade is suffering, and artisan fishermen are finding it increasingly difficult to sustain an adequate livelihood from lobster harvesting because of the decline in stocks. Illegal inshore fishing by foreign commercial boats has also caused destruction to coral reefs. In addition, the world’s main oil transport tankers pass through the Gulf of Aden. With no surveillance mechanism in place, this movement of tankers results in the constant threat of oil spillage and toxic waste dumping off the Somali coastline.

In terms of wildlife, only small remnant pockets of wildlife now exist, with many species approaching extinction. The elephant (Lexodonta Africana), black rhino (Deceros bicornis), lion (Panthera Leo), and Swayne’s hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus swaynei) have been wiped out from most of the country, while the wild ass (Equus asinus somalicus) that once numbered in the thousands has been reduced to just a few dozen.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The main threats to biodiversity and its ecosystems are: habitat loss and degradation (the unsustainable use of water is a major problem in the country and a contributor to this threat), climate change, overexploitation, pollution, invasive alien species, civil war and tsunamis. The associated indirect drivers of biodiversity loss include: urbanization, population growth, agricultural expansion, poverty and inequality, inadequate knowledge and awareness, inadequate capacity-building, and inadequate financial resources.

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme