Somalia is situated on the north-eastern tip of the Horn of Africa, and borders Kenya in the south, Ethiopia in the west, Djibouti in the north-west, the Gulf of Aden in the north, and the Indian Ocean in the east. The Somalia state territory, as defined between 1 July 1960 and the end of January 1991, consists of 637,657 square kilometres (square miles) and is mostly flat, rising in the southern and central regions to a few hundred metres (square feet) above sea level near the Ethiopian border. Along the northern coast the mountains rise to some 2,000 metres (square feet).
Somalia is principally desert and is dominated by savannah scrubland. Broadly speaking, northern and southern Somalia share the same arid and semi-arid climate. There are three geographical zones in the north, and five in the south of the country. The extensive grass plains of the Haud in the northern region provide excellent grazing for herds. The nomadic pastoralism which over half the population practise takes place from the Haud, a broad, undulating terrain that constitutes some of the best grazing lands for Somali nomads and which is now part of Ethiopia. The Haud is used for grazing in the rainy seasons (spring and autumn) and then abandoned in summer and winter due to lack of water. This entails a complex series of movements in search of grazing-land between the different seasons. The Somali differentiate between four seasons, two wet and two dry: Gu (long rainy season) lasting from April to July, Hagaa (dry) lasting from July to October, Dayr (the small rains) from October to December, and Jilaal (long dry season) lasting from December to April.
The main geographical distinction between the north and south of the country is the presence of two perennial rivers, the Juba and the Shabelle, situated in the southern regions. In years of high flow the two rivers meet and provide water for the irrigated agriculture in the rich inter-riverine belt of land. Agriculture is mainly practised in this region and in the north-west of the country.
The population of the inter-riverine area is distinctive from the remainder of Somalia and is believed to be Bantu in origin. The coastal areas have long been home to Indians, Persians, Arabs, and Swahili traders. Population movement is highly fluid as a result of warfare, famine, and displacement from rural areas to the cities. The proportion of the population living in urban areas is growing, and is estimated at 28 per cent of the total population. As a result of decades of social unrest and the breakdown of physical infrastructure, life expectancy at birth is 41 years for men and 45.4 years for women. Infant mortality is 219 per 1,000 births for boys and 198 for girls.
- CIA World Factbook 2002 http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/so.html
- The World Bank Group http://www.worldbank.org/data
- World Health Organization http://www.who.int/country/som/en/
Somalia has also long been involved in intra-regional and external trade. The locations of modern day Berbera and Bossaso were significant trading emporia between 300 BC and 500 AD. The north-western area of Somalia is also the principal trading zone, both for local products and historically for import-export trade in the region. Trade is the second most significant element of the Somali economy after agriculture. Exports and remittances from labour migration to the Gulf states and further afield are the other vital components of the Somali economy.
Somalia's economy is rooted in agriculture. In 1990 agriculture accounted for about 65 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), of which livestock was responsible for over 50 per cent, crops 38 per cent, and forestry and fisheries about 1 per cent each. The remainder was accounted for by services in the urban sector. Tanning and craft production took place, in the coastal town of Brava for example, and very limited industrial production took place around Mogadishu. In general terms, the Somali economy is dominated by pastoralism (the herding of ruminant animals on bush land), agro-pastoralism (farming with pastoralism) and farming (cereal production and horticulture). Pastoralists raise camels, sheep, cattle, and goats. Camels provide meat, are a means of transportation of goods, and are sold as livestock. The principal agricultural region is in the inter-riverine region in the south, although there is also farm production in the north-west. The central and north-eastern zones are more suited to pastoral modes of adaptation ( Brons 2001 ). The control of banana production in the inter-riverine area became a central source of conflict between the different clan factions in the Lower Shabelle region in the mid to late 1990s. Large-scale dispossession of farmers in the inter-riverine areas has occurred due to warfare between different clan factions and the continuing effort to control resources in this region ( Besteman and Cassanelli 1996 ).
Today, Somalia is one of the poorest Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in the world. Its economy has been crippled by the destruction of physical infrastructure during the years of civil war and clan conflict. The ban on livestock export by the Gulf states in the late 1990s has added to the overall economic insecurity in Somalia. There have been positive economic developments since 1991.The growth in telecommunications linked to the international banking system has been a particularly important development ( Perouse de Monclos 2000 ). The US-forced closure of Somali-owned Al-Barakaat banking and telecommunications systems in 2001, after charges of aiding terrorism, has had a damaging economic impact on the transfer of remittances to Somalia ( see Section 6.1 ).