Shebelle River

Shebelle River

Map of the Jubba/Shebelle drainage basin
Country Ethiopia, Somalia
Main source near
7°13′12″N 39°27′59″E / 7.2201°N 39.4665°E / 7.2201; 39.4665 (Primary source of Shebelle River)
River mouth occasionally continues into the Jubba River, usually dries up near
0°09′57″N 42°46′22″E / 0.1659°N 42.7727°E / 0.1659; 42.7727 (Mouth of Shebelle River)Coordinates: 0°09′57″N 42°46′22″E / 0.1659°N 42.7727°E / 0.1659; 42.7727 (Mouth of Shebelle River)

The Shebelle River (Somali: Webi Shabeelle, Italian: Uebi Scebeli) begins in the highlands of Ethiopia, and then flows southeast into Somalia towards Mogadishu. Near Mogadishu, it turns sharply southwest, where it follows the coast. Below Mogadishu, the river becomes seasonal. During most years, the river dries up near the mouth of the Jubba River, while in seasons of heavy rainfall, the river actually reaches the Jubba and thus the Indian Ocean.

The Shebelle river's name is derived from the Somali term Wabi Shabeelle, meaning "Leopard/Tiger River". The Somali administrative regions consisting of Shabeellaha Dhexe and Shabeellaha Hoose are also named after the river.


The Shebelle has a number of tributaries, both seasonal and permanent rivers. They include:

The Fafen only reaches the Shebelle in times of heavy rainfall; its stream usually ends before reaching the main river.


The source of the Shebelle River is venerated by both the Arsi Oromo and the Sidamo people. It is surrounded by a sacred enclosure wooded with juniper trees, which as of 1951 was under the protection of a Muslim member of the Arsi.[1]

In 1989, with the help of Soviet engineers, the Melka Wakena dam was built on the upper reaches of the Shebelle River in the Bale Mountains. Producing 153 megawatts, this dam is Ethiopia’s largest hydroelectric generator.[2]

The recent history of the Shabelle is marked by frequent destructive flash floods. The Shabelle is said to have flooded every other year prior to the 1960s; that decade had only two devastating floods, the hidigsayley in 1965, and the soogudud in 1966. In the 1970s, the most devastating flood was the kabahay of 1978.[3] In 1996, floods devastated three woredas in Ethiopia. On 23 October 1999, the river unexpectedly flooded in the middle of the night, destroying homes and crops in 14 out of the 117 kebeles in Kelafo woreda, as well as 29 of the 46 kebeles in neighboring Mustahil woreda. According to the local authorities, 34 people and an estimated 750 livestock died, with 70,000 affected by the floods and in need of assistance.[4] Two more recent floods were the dawdle in 2003, when about 100 livestock and 119 people were washed away, and the flood of April 2005, when about 30,000 persons were surrounded by floodwaters and 2000 camels and 4000 shoats were washed away by the floods; some locals consider this the worst flood in 40 years.[3]

See also


  1. J. Spencer Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia (Oxford: Geoffrey Cumberlege for the University Press, 1952), p. 260.
  2. Lulseged Ayalew, "Something that We Need to Know about Our River’s Hydropower Potential". Accessed 20 April 2006
  3. 1 2 Ayele Gebre-Mariam, The Critical Issue of Land Ownership, Working Paper No. 2 (Bern: NCCR North-South, 2005), pp. 35f (accessed 19 January 2009)
  4. "Drought and Floods: Stress Livelihoods and Food Security in the Ethiopian Somali Region" UNDP Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia report, dated November 1999 (accessed 28 December 2008)
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