It has been generally considered that the Protectorate is a hot, arid, in parts sandy, in parts rocky expanse in which water supplies are rare and, where existing, mostly of poor quality. While this is to a large extent true of the coastal plain and of the Guban country that extends from the coast to the bottom of the main scarp or to the foothills of the main inland axis east and west of the scarp, it is by no means true of the upland country which lies south of a line drawn through Las Gori and Hais; Wagger, Sheikh and Hargeisa; Borama and Somadu; in other words, south of the mountains and foothills which separate the country of a maximum elevation—exclusive of individual peaks and ridges—of 2,500 feet, from that of an elevation of 3,000 feet upwards. Moreover, the coastal plain and the Guban nowhere extend—except behind Zyla – for a greater distance than about forty miles from the coast, whereas the country on top of the scarp and main axis extends for more than a hundred miles to the south. During several seasons of the Somali year, abundant rain falls on the high country, almost every tug at some time of the year is a flowing stream, and it is no uncommon sight to see a broad flowing stream in the low-lying country of the Guban many miles from the district in which the rain has fallen. Statistics of rainfall kept at Hargeisa by the Medical Department show that in one month of 1922, at least 25 inches of rain fell at this hill station, and undoubtedly during the north-east monsoon the heights of the Golis, of Wagger, of Borama and of the escarpment in the east behind Las Gori are daily enveloped in rain-clouds, and, in the rainy seasons, scarcely a day passes without some water falling. The rainwater flows in two main directions, north and south of the Golis scarp and the mountain ridges to the east and west of it, but as the north side is extremely steep and the south side a gradual slope, ravines and torrents which are so common and conspicuous on the former are rare on the latter. On the south side, the streams appear to join together early into a few major channels, and, owing to the surface being uniformly sandy or calcareous, the water very soon disappears out of sight. Even on the north side, owing also to the loose sandy nature of the stream beds, the water of the ravines rarely flows above the surface for any considerable distance, but whereas “durdurs” and permanent springs appear to be uncommon on the south side, they occur in considerable numbers on the north.

In view of the large rainfall and the dryness of the Guban and the coastal plains, the question arises as to what becomes of the water. Including the fault ridges of the Guban, there is a gradual fall in the elevation of the land from the foot of the scarp from 2,500 feet to sea-level, and this fall is spread over a distance varying from 50 miles in the west to two or three miles in the east. Moreover, there is little doubt that the floor of the Guban is formed of gneiss and is covered with alluvial sand and gravels, and in the east to some extent with limestone, brought down by torrents from the high levels. What really takes place, therefore, particularly on the north side of the scarp and less conspicuously on the south side, is that the water pouring down the slopes of the scarps, ridges and foothills is carried by its own momentum a greater or less distance over the alluvial, and then, owing to the looseness of the latter, sinks out of sight. Having sunk, however, it still flows on out to the sea, for, under the sand and gravel, there is in each tug a more or less well-marked channel in the gneissic floor, and a gradual slope everywhere to the coast. Conserved in places, or obstructed in its course, it forms permanent springs and the water issuing from these again sinks and continues on as before.

It follows, therefore, that there must be annually an enormous amount of water of excellent quality that has fallen on the uplands flowing unseen and untapped under the alluvium of the arid Guban to the sea. It is, of course, not flowing everywhere, but in well-defined old stream channels that were originally exposed at the surface, but which in the course of time have been covered with sand and gravel.


That this is the case is indicated by a number of facts: (a) The large number of “durdurs” that occur between, say, Mandera or Gan Libah and El dur Elan to the east of Las Dureh; ( b) the large number of permanent fresh-water wells near and at the bottom of the scarp and ridges; (c) in many tugs the Somalis have but to sink a hole in the sand to various depths to obtain water which keeps the same level for an indefinite time; (d) even within a few yards of the sea-coast in many places, freshwater wells occur or can be made by digging in the tug beds; (e) the occurrence half-way across the Guban or coastal plain, and even within a few miles of the coast, of springs from which issue many thousands of gallons of water per day.

Durdurs of excellent water occur, for example, at Durdur Ad north of Borama, at Hennweina near Gan Libah, at Lower Sheikh, on the east side of Wagger Range, in Ashararet Range, and even near Kaufli Range south of Ankor. Permanent wells occur at Gebilay, Hargeisa, Argan, Mandera, Hul Kaboba and many other places. Near the coast, water is obtained in tugs at Wagderia, Hashau, Raguda, Ankor, Karam. In Bihendula Range, near the Rest House, half-way across the Guban, is a spring from which probably 100,000 gallons a day issue, flow away down the tug for about a quarter of mile, and disappear beneath the sand. At Biyogora, to the south-east of Berbera, large springs issue from the junction of the limestones and sandstones, and form a stream which largely disappears after flowing a short distance. At Dubar, about eight miles south of Berbera, is a series of springs which give a flow of about one million gallons a day, and from which the water is gravitated by means of a pipeline to supply the needs of the town.

On the south side of the high level ridges, a similar condition of affairs appears to exist, but not in the same degree. The writer had no opportunity of examining this part of the country except between Sheikh and Burao, but from information obtained, there would appear to be a considerable number of permanent wells, some, as at El Afweina, Gud Anod, El Der, Erigavo, Kirrit, etc., with water exposed at the surface, others, as at Burao, with water at a varying depth in a tug. Durdurs, however, are rare and the quality of the water except in Burao is not so good as on the north side. The streamlets on the top of the scarp tend to join together to form a few large watercourses. In the Sheikh-Burao area, for instance, most of the streamlets join the tug which flows from near Sheikh through Burao and ultimately becomes the Togdheer some miles below Burao. Moreover, it is only immediately after heavy rain on the Golis and Wagger Range that water is actually seen in the tug. It sinks out of sight very quickly and vet is always present under the surface in old water channels which may or may not correspond with the course of the present tug. At Burao water is always obtainable in wells on the side of the tug at a depth of seventy feet, even in the dry season, and that there is a large underground water channel extending for many miles below Burao is shown by the luxuriance of the grass over a clearly defined stretch of country as far south as Kirrit.

It is clear that the conception of the Protectorate as a waterless expanse is due not to the lack of rainfall and the absence of water supplies, but to the fact that they are to a large extent concealed, that the resources are quite undeveloped, and that no attempts have been so far made even by the natives to conserve the rainfall. In the interests of the natives, of their flocks and herds, and of the country, steps should be taken to improve the water supply. The numbers and quality of the livestock on which the Somalis at present live, and which form the chief trade asset to the country, would be greatly increased if more plentiful supplies of water, and of water of better quality than that now generally used, were obtainable. Much of the wealth of the Somalis come from the sale of ghee, which is produced largely from the milk of their cattle, and it is well known that, at present, they have to drive their flocks long distances to known wells, surface pools and durdurs, and that in some years lack of water and feed during the dry season causes considerable mortality from starvation, while in all years this same lack reduces all their animals to poor condition. The natives have no idea how to sink a well, exercise no care to prevent contamination of the water by manure or to prevent evaporation, and, indeed, even wash in, bathe in, and drink the water that the stock have been driven through. The health, too, of a considerable part of the population would be considerably benefited by provision of cleaner water, and it is probable that, by developing of existing supplies, something can be done to utilize the areas of agricultural land and to get better returns from the large tracts of pastoral land which undoubtedly exist in the Protectorate.

While the methods to be adopted to this end depend on the geological and other conditions in each area, and should be decided on only after an examination of these conditions, it is nevertheless possible to set out a few in general terms:

(1) Tapping the considerable bodies of water which at present flow underground probably along old stream channels from the hilly country to the sea. This would require investigation of the course of these channels, but when they are found, if spots are selected with care and skill, good water in large amounts should be obtainable in wells of varying depth.

(2) Forming permanent protected wells at the numerous durdurs in the tugs on both sides of the main axis.

(3) Forming permanent wells in the numerous tugs in which water is now got by Somalis by sinking holes in the sand. These holes are now constantly being fouled and periodically silted up, but by the use of perforated and screened piping in wells put down to considerable depths, silting could be to a great extent prevented and the water could be protected from contamination and evaporation.

(4) In places where settlements exist or could be established, and where the rainfall is considerable, reservoirs or dams could be constructed, as far as practicable with a cover to prevent evaporation.

(5) Opening out, cleaning and protecting existing wells which are used by the natives.

It has been suggested by some that several of the larger springs could be used for irrigation purposes, but as the character of the alluvium on the coastal and inland plain cannot, except perhaps in one or two areas, be described as promising, as it is only on the coastal and inland plain that a sufficient hydrostatic head can be obtained to allow of the flow of sufficient quantities of water, and as, in the hot season, the south-west monsoon and the accompanying dust destroy practically all except indigenous vegetation,[22] irrigation on any considerable scale appears to be impracticable.

During the operations against the Mullah, it was stated by Major Lotbinière, R.E., that the structure of that part of the country lying to the south of the Golis Range was favorable for the occurrence of artesian water, and in at least four places, viz., at Babur, Derkeinleh, Erkadalanleh and Kirrit, boreholes were sunk to a depth of 380 feet and more with the object of obtaining an artesian supply.

Nowhere was such a supply met with. On the other hand, in no single instance was the boring continued until bedrock was reached. There is no doubt that along the summit and southern slopes of the main watershed, there is sufficient rainfall and, to some extent at any rate, a suitable intake to provide an artesian supply, but whether the sequence of beds and the geological structure of the country are such as to render possible the existence of an artesian basin are questions which can only be settled by an examination of the country. Owing to its distance from the coast and the amount of time required for such an examination, this was not practicable. The little evidence, however, obtained in a trip from Sheikh southwards to Kirrit along the motor track appeared rather unfavorable for the existence of a basin. In view of the great importance of a supply of artesian or even of sub-artesian water, especially in the country west of Burao, as bedrock was not reached in any of the bores put down, and as nothing is known of the nature of the strata, it seems advisable that a geological report on this part of the country should be obtained.

Sub-artesian water, of course, has been drawn for many years from the tug at Burao itself.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.