Topic: Environment
Disaster In The Making
By AHMED MOHAMED 05/02/2012
Charcoal Burning
© Somalia Report, all rights reserved
Charcoal Burning

Charcoal production has been in existence since the creation of the horn of Africa state. Output from this industry is consumed both locally and internationally. Somalia started the exportation of this lucrative commodity back in the 1970s making it the backbone of its economy. Up until 1991, 50% of Somalia's charcoal produce was exported to the Gulf States. Later on, livestock exportation gradually took over the export market but soon after that Saudi Arabia banned the importation of livestock from Somalia due to poor health standards. It was only two weeks ago when Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on importation of livestock from Somalia.

The lure of income from charcoal trade proved to be overpowering as traders, especially the low income earners turned to charcoal as their only source of income. The enterprise requires minimal capital and depends largely on human labour. The major effect of this economic incentive is gradual degradation of arable and pasture land which leads to long term desertification. Currently 80% of Somalia’s charcoal output is exported mainly to Saudi Arabia, Yemen and United Arab Emirates (UAE).

According to the Somalia Ecological Society (SES) 70,000 tonnes of charcoal are exported annually from Somalia.

If an Acacia tree can produce an estimate of 8 to 10 sacks of charcoal, 25kgs each, one can easily estimate the magnitude of annual deforestation in Somalia. Somalia Ecological Society estimated the deforestation rate in Somalia to be 35,000 hectares per year.

Previous Somali regimes have done little to combat the booming enterprise. There was no restriction and regulation imposed on this industry. Recently the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) requested that the United Nations (UN) ban the exportation of charcoal from Somalia, not because it was slowly turning Somalia into a Sahara desert but simply because charcoal exportation is a reliable income generating enterprise for the al-Shabaab militia. The insurgents use Kismayo and Barawo ports as their major exporting points. Three months later, on 25th February 2012 the United Nations heeded this call and the UN monitoring group banned the exportation of what it referred to as ‘black gold’. This means that the Gulf countries must refrain from using charcoal which is imported from Somalia. Bearing in mind the huge market for this cheap source of energy, this objective may be difficult to attain.

Competition in charcoal production has intensified as various clans have turned to it as a source of livelihood after the recent droughts resulted in loss of livestock.

For a better understanding of what the charcoal trade involves, Somalia Report spoke to a charcoal trader in Burgaabo who preferred to identify himself as Hassan (not real name).

“I have been working as a charcoal trader for eight years now. Aside from that, I also own twenty goats that I purchased using income generated from the charcoal business. This is the only enterprise that can provide a reliable source of earning in this area. That is what has forced me to do this job so I can fend for my family,” he said.

In regard to production of the commodity, Hassan described it as a labour intensive and difficult activity.

“Charcoal production cannot be handled by one person but an average of four to five men. We start felling acacia trees and chopping them into almost 1.5 meter long logs. We then dig the ground and arrange the logs in piles. We cover the logs with steel drums or leaves during the rainy season. This is done to minimize air circulation in the enclosure and convert the logs to charcoal. The final step is setting fire to the pile,” he described.

To produce 20 sacks of 25kg each, two huge acacia trees are felled. Charcoal prices are an average of $5 and are sold to merchants. The charcoal merchants in turn sell the commodity to Arab countries at $10 to $15 when the demand is high. However, lower prices of $2 were applied for sale of charcoal to al-Shabaab militia when they were in control of the area. The militia imposed taxes on loads of donkey carts ranging between $2 to $3. Hassan informed us in hushed tones that there are still al-Shabaab agents who trade in charcoal using capital from the Mujahideen after which they send the profits to the fighters.

Charcoal burners and pastoralists are currently at loggerheads due to the obvious state of environmental degradation and its impact on livestock. Abdullahi Gedi is a herdsman who expressed his disappointment in the current state of affairs.

“I don’t know what the TFG is doing. How can they remain aloof and fail to take legal action against these miserly people who are focused on destroying our future? Everyone knows that livestock is the backbone of our economy. These charcoal burners go to the extent of cutting flourishing green trees after exhausting the dry and dead wood. They do this for their selfish needs. I have seen trees with stems chopped off and ‘magadi’ (salt) inserted in that section so as to induce gradual drying of the trees,” he said. A frustrated Gedi insisted that they will no longer tolerate such selfish actions and interest by the charcoal burners.

Somalia Report contacted a TFG conservation official in Gedo region who conceded that the cutting of trees is an offense in Somalia today unlike in the past.

“I am not surprised that charcoal burners are doing this intensively. I believe our institutions are not well developed or have the capacity to impose any form of restriction on such trade. It is also difficult to implement and reinforce laws when there is minimal or no government presence on the ground," he said.

The charcoal industry in Somalia spells disaster for the indigenous acacia trees which are now confined to riverside areas of Shabelle and Juba. Widespread tree cutting has resulted in low rainfall production and limited atmospheric purification. Once a forest is destroyed mass wasting is impossible to prevent and soil erosion cripples farming produce and livestock rearing. Somali leaders must rise to this challenge and invest in the future of their country before it is no more. Environmental conservation is as deserving of adequate attention and resources as combat and military engagement. It is the one common enemy among all Somalis.

Alied Forces Halt 30 Kilometers South of City
Road between Bardhere and Garbaharey
© Somalia Report, all rights reserved
Road between Bardhere and Garbaharey

Transitional Federal Government Forces (TFG) aided by Kenyan troops fought against al-Shabaab insurgents on Friday morning at Taraaka, 30 kilometers south of Bardhere, Gedo region.

The battle began after TFG troops attacked an al-Shabaab base between Taraaka and Bardhere. TFG officer Jamal Hasan Sarey told Somalia Report that the allied forces had killed seven militants during the confrontation and had halted 30 kilometeres south of Bardhere. Sarey claimed that the allied forces had sustained severel injuries, while capturing one technical al-Shabaab battle wagon.

Al-Shabaab officials were not immediately available for comment.

Hasan Abdullahi, a Bardhere resident, spoke to Somalia Report.

"Al-Shabaab in Bardhere is preparing to resist. A lot of al-Shabaab militants are gathering in Bardhere and moving forward to the fighting areas."

Civilians have begun to flee out of Bardhere in fear of impending fighting, but al-Shabaab militants have reportedly refused to allow them to leave, forcing them to join the town's defenders.

Bardhere is a strategic town as it contains one of three major bridges over the Juba river, connecting Gedo to Bay region. It is also the largest city in Gedo remaining in al-Shabaab hands. TFG and Kenyan troops have already seized the major towns of Bulahawo, Garbaharey, and Elwak.

In recent months, Al-Shabaab has transferred much of its forces to Gedo and Juba regions in preparation for the defence of the the port town of Kismayo, al-Shabaab's greatest stronghold and source of revenue.

Massive Clean Up Project Underway to Boost City's Image
By ABDIKAFAR HOSH 08/13/2011
The residents of Mogadishu have embarked on a sanitation program aimed at redeeming the lost glory of the bullet-ridden Somali capital.

According to government officials, the clean-up campaign kicked off on Friday in Yaqshid district in northern Mogadishu, just a few days after the militant group al-Shabaab pulled out of its key strongholds in the city. The district was one of the main bases for the Islamist group.

Authorities say the cleaning program involves sweeping and clearing waste materials off the streets of Mogadishu, and followed the al-Shabaab’s withdrawal from the city a week ago. They said the campaign was expected to reach other districts and villages in the Banadir region, where government soldiers and AMISOM peace keeping forces have since taken control after ousting the al-Qaeda-linked militants.

The Chairman of Yaqshid district in Mogadishu, Muhiyadiin Hassan Jurus, who took part in the cleaning activity, said the initiative was voluntary.

“We are all gathered here today to take part in the cleaning campaign. The people of this district have come together with one aim - to clean up the streets and government buildings in this area,” he said. He said the operation, which commenced at the headquarters of the Yaqshid district, will reach all the other villages and different parts in the district.

Speaking at the same venue, Colonel Mohamed Mohamud Yalahow, commander of the Yaqshid police station, applauded the residents and urged them to carry on with the same spirit of hard work and cooperation. “I applaud the residents of this district for showing their support towards their government and trying to create a clean, stable and peaceful Mogadishu,” he said.

He praised the residents for working tirelessly with the government soldiers and AMISOM peacekeeping forces to maintain and control the security of the region and Mogadishu as a whole.

“The security and the controlling of our stability is a general duty upon us, so allow me to urge you all in this district to respect the law and order,” Colonel Yalahow said.

Some of the community elders, who spoke at the venue, said that the operation was well-organized and urged them to carry on with similar activities that would help reclaim the beauty of the Somali capital. They have appealed to the TFG soldiers to tighten up security and ensure safety on the streets and around the government buildings.

“We want from the commanders of the AMISOM peacekeeping forces and the soldiers from the transitional federal government to ensure that everyone is safe, clear any explosive devices lying on the streets,” one of the elders said

They added that the explosive materials on the streets of Mogadishu resembled stones in the sand, and that they explode anytime.

Halima Abdullahi, a mother of 6, took part in the cleaning exercise in Yaqshid district. She said that her group was working voluntarily to boost the appearance of the district through sanitation campaigns to promote hygiene among citizens.

“We are ready to restore our dignity and unity among all the people in the district, and we have started off by sweeping the streets and government buildings,” she said.

Visiting Mogadishu for the first time, one will come across a crowded scene of collapsed buildings and streets that have been destroyed over the years due to the long standing civil war. There are sights of vacated homes and villages in all the districts within the city a clear testimony of the state of the conflict and unrest.

Another important feature that stands out in Mogadishu is a small weed plant, commonly known to the local people as 'Ali Garob’. This weed plant is almost everywhere all over the city. It has survived through times of prolonged droughts. Mustafe Dalmar, a Somali teenager, says he is happy to be involved in the cleaning initiative. “As a young Somali, I would like to contribute to the clean-up and even take part in reconstruction works of the main streets and government buildings in our district,” he said, adding that he wanted to get rid of the weed plants around the city, especially in Mogadishu Stadium where Somali youngsters frequent to play soccer.

Officials said Yaqshid district, where the campaign started, is home to some of the capital’s important landmarks, including Mogadishu Stadium, Somali National Television and various institutions, such as schools and hospitals. Some of the famous hotels in Mogadishu are also located here.

However, there are certain fears about the clean-up operations. Residents are worried over coming into contact with explosive materials left behind by the al-Shabaab group. In recent years, explosive devices have claimed more than 30 lives, mostly women, while performing clean-up activities on the main streets of Mogadishu.

Somalia’s Complex System of Survival Destroyed By More Than Lack of Rain
Although the photos and images are grim most of Somalia endures
Although the photos and images are grim most of Somalia endures

We see the photos of skeletal children, despondent mothers and weak old men. We want to help. Our first reaction is to give them something to eat, something to drink. If we are to believe the statistics this latest disaster to befall Somalia is due to lack of rain. There is truth to this but most coverage lacks the insight behind the truths.

Somalia is experiencing a famine because of a series of unseen and more calamitous events that have occurred over the last few decades. Disasters like the 1993 civil war, the 2005 tsunami, the 2006 Ethiopian invasion, the 2009 rise of “the youth” and now the drought. We are seeing just the leading edge of the wave that will bring far worse penalties for Somalia.


Horn of Africa Drought
Horn of Africa Drought

The best single source for information about how rainfall, water and the effects of moisture on Somalia is the Somalia Water and Land Information Management based in Nairobi.

This UNICEF-funded NGO that measures precipitation and climate predicts worse things to come. Not just from lack of rain but the cascading effect of crop failure. Failed crops for two years in a row due to lack of rain have led to rapidly rising food prices Lack of rain sprouted forage has not just caused widespread death of livestock but the need for herders to sell or eat their breeding stock. These primary and secondary effects only point to troubled times ahead. This grim forecast along with the current deprivations force more and more Somalis to abandon their flocks, farms, homes and communities to flee to refugee camps. The slow unraveling of traditional economic patterns also slowly erode other social structures.

Normally problems related to sustenance would cause internal displacement as pastoralists move towards urban areas where life support exists. The increase in violence and sharply reduced food imports have pushed these desperate people out of their own country and 40 miles into Kenya. A safe harbor that requires running an ugly gauntlet. Distance, extortion, lack of funds all conspire against the desperate. Here the town of Garissa (pop. 70,000) is dwarfed by the nearby refugee camps. Dadaab was built in 1991 to house around 90,000 Somalis fleeing the civil war. Currently it and satellite camps are home to just under 380,000 refugees.

Refugees at Ifo Camp
Somalia Report
Refugees at Ifo Camp

People who make it there are given the bare essentials of life and quickly fall into social units as they wait, completely dependent on charity. It may be safe, they may the basics, but it is not their home and it is not Somalia. In order for them to return there must be something better or at least some hope that the future will be brighter. For now there is nothing to indicate that.

Looking around at the excesses of our own culture makes the desperation of Somalia even more poignant. If they could just have one small shred of what we throw away everyday. So we assuage our guilt and concern by donating money to a large organization who assures us that they will get it to the best and most urgent place. But that is actually the worst thing to do because sustaining the artificial life in a refugee camp leads to permanent places like Palestine, the borders of Thailand, and other “temporary” solutions that turn a country inside out resulting in marginalized people, lost generations, insurgent groups, crime, terrorism and ultimately publicly complacency. Complacent because after the initial headline grabbing disaster is gone the refugee camps and the resultant booming population growth remain.

Dadaab turned 20 years old in April of this year and Kenya, with its own internal problems insists that the camp is a temporary solution to famine, not the violence and lack of opportunity inside. Everyday it grows larger as the international community asks Kenya to host even more refugees. But what is actually going on? What is famine? What is drought? What are the underlying engines of both and what is the real homeostasis of the region? Is there really a “normal” Somalia? Will there ever be a normal Somalia?

The answer is complex but worth pursuing. Right now the largest single factor in Somalia’s disaster has been the constant post-colonial erosion of organizational structures that kept both the nomadic, urban and international systems turning over. In addition Somalia has been a petri dish for well intentioned but ineffective social programs that have turned it into a massively dysfunctional quasi country. Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is the most visible of these foreign constructs but Somalia has a long history of outside programs that are underfunded and eventually abandoned. It would be helpful to look at what does and doesn't work inside Somalia.

When the Going Gets Tough

Somalia is a hard country but it functions. Although many of the affluent and educated have left it is a literate and industrious nation. Around 37% of Somali's can read and write vs 28% in Afghanistan. Outside of Mogadishu hundreds of small towns and minor cities bustle with commerce, buses are full of travelers, shops are full and social activity bustle late into the night. Safety and success are relative terms but moving around the country the outsider will meet a wide variety of Somalia: solitary nomads, returning relatives, happy school girls to grouchy shopkeepers. Most are healthy, active and optimistic. They have learned to function without a government, relying on their own resources to survive and often prosper. This is not the first or last drought they have seen and even though this is called the “worst drought in 60 years” to many Somalis it is just another obstacle to surmount. But the lack of surplus of water is not the reason for the regions woes.

The cycle of rain
The cycle of rain


Water comes from four sources. There is the ocean, the run off from Ethiopian highlands that feeds the rivers, natural water table that feeds wells, and there are the rains.

The ocean off Somalia has two monsoonal flows that make the region very attractive for fishing. Mid April heralds the reverse of monsoons from northeast to southwest.

The Gu extends from April through June, and the Deyr begins in September and ends in November. There is the Haga in July and August that favors the central region and the Haisin that wets the mountains and western part of the country. Rainfall in Somalia is always sporadic and can range from 50mm in the driest areas and 600 in the mountains.

The dry seasons are the Hagaa from July to September and the Jilaal from December to April. The oceans off Somalia there are the rains

The coastal position of Somalia next to the verdant mountains of Ethiopia and the open ocean make for a unique ecosystem and weather patterns that have been harnessed by Somali's into centuries old patterns of nomadic, maritime, agrarian and trading activities.

It is the very flexibility and inconsistency of rainfall on land that has led to a culture of survival and centuries old system of compromise inside Somalia. The best example of how this weather pattern and Somali’s work together is the camel.

Starving Camel
Starving Camel

Much of Somalia is a hard arid land but semi predictable rains and resultant pasture growth allowed the region to support large herds of migrating animals. Camels, goats and other grazers were moved along the belts of rapidly sprouting grass lands and when mature, they were shipped overseas to nearby consumers of livestock, leather, milk or meat. Cash in hand and his best animals ready for breeding, food and milk, the process would start again

Camels were first domesticated by Somalis and they take credit for their role as launching the dromedary as the Toyota pickup trucks of the ancient world. Camels from the Horn of Africa composed 65% of the world’s 15 million dromedary’s in the late 80’s and camel exports historically contributed about 10% of Somalia’s GDP. Camels were unique in that they determined wealth, provided a hedge against drought and could be converted into other goods. Camels were the mainstay of Somalia’s rural economy and they did well in the on again, off again rain patterns. Times of drought mixed with times of plenty were managed by the pastoralists.

Pastoralists move their herds with the rainfall. Camels should be watered every week but can go up to 30 days without moisture and an adult camel will drink 80 – 100 liters of water at one time. Camels can survive off their grazing in greener times but a herder must make tough decisions when drought faces his herd. Sell, slaughter or risk finding sources of water?

A thirsty camel can drink up to 200 liters in a day
@Somalia Report
A thirsty camel can drink up to 200 liters in a day

Camels require grazing and water but can withstand drought better than smaller animals like goats. A typical well is not sufficient to feed a herd of camels so a system of large wells and reservoirs were created. Additionally pastoralists could negotiate alternative passage as the rains favored certain areas. Even in times of intense fighting the clan system allowed all parties to negotiate a pragmatic solution to grazing, disputes and passage.

With the lack of rain over a long period, camel herders find themselves without forage and the lower water tables provide less water for the commercial delivery of water to large reservoirs. Gestation time for a camel is over a year, making long term planning even more risky. Groups like al-Shabaab who do not care about the natural migration or support the historical negotiations required to get camels to market make entry into Kismayo make the decisions easy for pastoralists. Faced with selling or eating even their breeding stock to survive, they must move towards the cities.

From 1978 to 1988 the population of all livestock in Somalia slowly increased to 6.6 million camels, 19.7 million sheep and 19.7 million goats. By 1997 it was estimated camel populations were started to shrink to 5.7m. In September of 2000 the Gulf nations banned import of Somali livestock due to Rift Valley fever. Although the ban was lifted in 2001, it effectively destroyed the motivation to maintain large camel herds. Somalia’s export of camels peaked in 1997 and quickly collapsed. Some sources estimate that a combination of the ban and the 2004 drought destroyed 80% of Somalia’s livestock.

The Ocean

Somalia's fisherman are hampered by their inability to reach foreign markets
Somalia's fisherman are hampered by their inability to reach foreign markets

The bounty from the oceans around Somalia should not only be immune to rainfall and climate, but the remote locations should make it immune to the effects of violence. Somalia historically is a seafaring nation. Today there are only four functional ports (Berbera, Bosaso, Mogadishu and Kismayo) and no functioning commercial fishing industry other than the small local littoral activity.

Somalia was a major fishing ground for tuna, swordfish and other large edible fish. The country’s almost 2,000 miles of coastline is 700 miles more than that of California. California’s commercial fishing industry brings in $800 million a year. Somalia does not have a commercial fishing industry and even Somaliland, a region immune to many of the woes, has 170 ships, no exports and a single cannery in Las Quorey that can produce 2.5 tonnes a day but only for internal consumption. The only measurable export is about $1.5M a year in dried shark fins due to the lack of refrigeration and transport.

But even at its peak Somalia’s fishing industry only delivered 11,000 tons in 1980. Around 1990 it was estimated that there were 60,000 Somalis working in the fishing industry, but mostly off shore and local enterprises. Fishing contributed an anemic 2% to the GDP with most of their offshore resources being stolen by large fishing fleets from Europe and Asia. In the mid 2000’s piracy began to turn Somalia’s ocean into a no-go zone and only armed and illegal fishing fleets are found offshore. Commercial fishing requires refrigeration, transportation and of course security. Somalia has lost all of that. Somalia’s fishing industry peaked in 2009 at 30,000 tons never to regain its growth.

Shark Skins Drying in Somalia
@Somalia Report
Shark Skins Drying in Somalia

It is clear that even with the abundant oceans, Somalia will not be feeding its people from the sea anytime in the near future.

The Land

Somalia does have crops with bananas being the most famous export. The Juba River Valley supports banana plantations. In addition Somali farmers grow sorghum, corn, sugarcane, mangoes, sesame seeds and beans using seasonal rains or irrigation from the two main rivers.

In its heyday the banana business employed 120,000 Somalis and the year round water supply in the Shabbelle and Juba river kept 12,000 hectares under plantation. The civil war in the early 90’s shut the industry down and it tottered back into productivity between 1993 and 1997. Today the banana industry barely keeps 3,000 hectares under cultivation with fertilizer hard to bring in and produce almost impossible to export in a timely manner.

Other crops are dependent on rain and in a time of extended drought there is simply no crop and therefore no income for farmers. Irrigated crops along the same two rives do supply a regular rotation of crops but antiquated systems provide a low yield. In all Somalia does not have the farmers, let alone the rain to feed itself.

Under the ground is a potential source of income as Range Resources weathers attacks and harsh conditions to drill exploratory wells for oil in Puntland. If oil is found in the Nugaal and Dharoor Valley areas it will bring money to the government and may cause even more fighting as clans jockey for control. f

The Air

Dozens of small planes deliver fresh khat every day throughout Somalia
Dozens of small planes deliver fresh khat every day throughout Somalia
Could Somalia survive from the skies? Not likely. The space above Somalia is criss crossed diagonally with thousands of commercial flights per year. The United Nations has removed the cash flow from the government and the pockets the funds from fees paid to the UN's Civil Aviation Caretaker Authority for Somalia (CACAS) operating from Nairobi, Kenya to interface with the International Civil Aviation Organization since 1996. Even today flight plans must be filed and approved by the UN inside Somalia. The ICAO predicts that air traffic in Somali air space will be increasing by 5.7% in 2009 and it is expected to increase by 8% during the next 2 years. The money will stay inside Kenya. Air also brings in the qat and takes out the impressive qat revenue. It is estimates that Kenya exports $250 million a year in khat and that 60 to 75% of Somali's are users or sellers. Rough estimates by drug agencies (there is no clear tracking) put the daily sales at $300,000 a day just from the airports in Kenya to Somalia. Once again anarchy hand in hand with foreign supervision.

Optimism or Pessimism?

A snapshot of Somalia today shows that even with proven resources (fish, bananas, camels etc) Somalia has a hard time functioning. Add violence, degradation of infrastructure, social engineering, brain drain, drought and you have another mid 90’s Afghanistan or Pol Pot era Cambodia where the only quasi functioning elements are the UN and armed militias. Inside that chaotic image are a number of well functioning white and black market systems that function. A glance at the GDP estimates by various groups show something surprising.

The gross domestic product of Somalia is estimated at around $6 billion a year with a growth rate of 2.6%. Although the data is suspect, and the total laughable, that growth rate is higher than New Zealand, France, Spain or the UK.

These estimates are not based on any methodical or reliable information but rather “WAG”s by analysts using mostly bits and pieces from NGOs, government surveys and well, just making things up. In addition Somalia’s economy is made up of 20 to 50% of remittances from the diaspora, that’s a massive flow of tax free cash without any corresponding benefit.

The CIA has consistently tracked growth in the Somali economy with the UAE as their main trading partner with well over half of exports going to the tiny trading nation. Yemen accounted for a quarter with Saudi Arabia a tiny sliver. The most affected by the current conflict is the 10% of manufacturing contribution. For example there was briefly a Coca Cola bottling plant in Mogadishu that opened in 2004 and was shut down and re-created in Hargeisa. Opportunity flows into safe areas and away from dangerous ones.

The diaspora keeps the emerging airline business full and the mobile phone system is among the most inexpensive and high quality in the world. Money transfer, charcoal, import and road taxes, payoffs by foreign organizations and even piracy push invisible money into the system. An impressive $1.6 billion alone is sent into Somalia by outsiders using international money transfers. The number may be much larger since money transfers through informal hawalas and direct delivery of cash is not tracked. This phantom influx of money goes into buying local goods and stimulating the economy.

Sufficiency and Dependency

There are some key things to remember. Somalia has never been self-sufficient. Harvests during good rains only provided 40% of cereal needs. The remaining balance had to be imported. Somalia spends more than it makes, imports more than it exports, and the Mogadishu-based government relies on handouts to survive. Rice, flour, oil and other staples are typically important and shipped to rural areas. During times of conflict, poor rainfall and displaced populations the already broken systems break down even further initially pushing rural Somalis into the camps in Mogadishu and now into Northern Kenya.

The use of large centralized refugee camps well away from population centers are not the answer or the solution they are simply necessary evil to deal with massive refugee housing and feeding. They are essentially the global version of IV feeding a nation during trauma.

Global famine areas
Global famine areas

Unfortunately since there is no short term solution to the drought, there is no short term or long term solution to restoring security to the south and very little constructive action for outside support to the internal support systems of water, livestock, agriculture and fishing while violence and lack of funding are the norm rather than the exception.

Until there is a Somalia that is better than Dadaab, then there will be little incentive for Somalis to return home.

Wealth of Historical Evidence, But Little Proof Today
Jetsam off Hobyo locals say is proof of toxic dumping
©Somalia Report
Jetsam off Hobyo locals say is proof of toxic dumping

Somalia’s pirate gangs portray themselves as a “local coastguard”, defending Somalia from unscrupulous hordes of foreign vessels taking advantage of the chaos and lack of an effective government to use the Horn of Africa nation’s waters as a free dump for toxic waste and a ripe ground for illegal fishing.

While most observers acknowledge such events were one of the sparks for piracy in the 90s, few now buy the justification for what has become a multi-million dollar industry targeting high-value merchant vessels travelling far outside Somalia’s territorial waters.

There has been historical and academic claims that indicate that both practices took place, but the big question is whether it is still ongoing, as pirates, local fishermen and officials from both the Transitional Federal Government and Puntland claim. In the first of two reports, Somalia Report looks at the toxic dumping claims.

Historical dumping

There is no doubt that toxic dumping took place in the past, gaining pace after the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, which sparked a chaotic period where the warlords who ruled the roost were happy to deal with unscrupulous organizations wanting to dispose of unsavory cargoes in exchange for weapons.

Greenpeace in 1997 published research that showed Swiss and Italian companies were working as brokers for companies taking hazardous waste from Europe to dump off Somalia and other African countries.

According to a 2010 report by the campaigning group, there were 94 attempted/actual cases of hazardous waste exports to Africa between 1998 and 1994, involving over 10 million tons of residues, including radioactive material.

Shady groups from Italy, linked with Somalia due to its role as the colonial ruler of Italian Somaliland before independence, were particularly prominent. The report says that in the mid to late-nineties, an Italian mafia group known as Ndrangheta worked in cahoots with the Somali government and warlords to arrange for waste to be either dumped in coastal waters or buried along the coastline.

According to the report, Ezio Scaglione (honorary consul of Somalia) told an Italian probe prompted by Greenpeace’s research that Giancarlo Marocchino, an Italian businessman resident in Karan, said he could get rid of radioactive waste by burying it in containers used to strengthen the pier in Eel Ma’aan, a small port north of Mogadishu.

Excerpts from an intercepted telephone conversation showed Faduma Aidid, an official Somali representative to Italy, discussing other dumping arrangements.

“The Garowe-Bosaso road will be used to bury the waste,” he said. “They have poisoned the whole territory ... The toxic waste produced by Italian and European (sic) industries gets loaded onto boats in the port of Trieste. They get distributed in the countries. It is toxic waste and uranium. It destroys everything.”

Writing for The Ecologist in 2009, journalist Chris Milton said the Italian probe found that 35 million tons of waste had been exported to Somalia for $6.6 billion.

Investigating the allegations proved deadly for some. Italian journalist Ilaria Alpi was shot dead in Mogadishu in 1994, reportedly because she had seen evidence the Ndrangheta were working with warlords to dump toxic waste in exchange for weapons.

The waste buried on land was just part on the picture, and evidence of sea-based dumping was literally pitched up in 2004 when the Indian Ocean tsunami hit. Dozens of containers were washed up on the shores of Somalia, and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), in a 2005 report, said that waste washed up on the shores caused serious health problems:

“The impact of the tsunami stirred up hazardous waste deposits on the beaches around North Hobyo (South Mudug) and Warsheik (North of Benadir). Contamination from the waste deposits has thus caused health and environmental problems to the surrounding local fishing communities including contamination of groundwater. Many people in these towns have complained of unusual health problems as a result of the tsunami winds blowing towards inland villages. The health problems include acute respiratory infections, dry heavy coughing and mouth bleeding, abdominal haemorrhages, unusual skin chemical reactions, and sudden death after inhaling toxic materials.”

In addition, the report said: “The economic potential of Somalia’s marine resources has been seriously affected and threatened, whilst dumping of toxic and harmful waste is rampant in the sea, on the shores and in the hinterland.”

The bulk of the support for toxic dumping in Somalia exists in the Italian press, using Somalis, Italian mafia snitches and local stories as sources. What is missing is any significant attempt to locate, measure, test or scientifically back up these stories. Local uncorroborated tales, photos of rusted containers and a listing of previous articles allow journalists and NGO's to bend the story either way. A story about the lack of toxic dumping has little commercial value or resonance. An investigative story about western nations destroying the Somali economy have much greater impact even if the underlying facts are missing.

As recently as 2008, the then-UN special envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, said he had "reliable information" that European and Asian companies were dumping waste. However, he offered no evidence to back up his statement.

Today's accusations

While hard proof of historical abuse exists, the situation today is murkier, as the security situation means few groups actually gain access to take water samples or investigate suspect containers.

Coastal communities say that while toxic dumping decreased for a while, the arrival of foreign navies in 2008 to tackle piracy set the process in motion again. Many fishermen accuse NATO and the European Union of using their navies to protect vessels engaged in dumping from pirates.

“After the tsunami that enveloped the coast of Somalia, we have registered a significant drop in our catches,” Bashir Yussuf Barre, spokesman for the fishermen of Banadir, told Somalia Report.

“Two things are possible here: first there has been this issue of toxic waste disposal into our waters, and we believe as fishermen this is the biggest contributor to the drop in our stocks. Some western multinational companies are using our waters to dump some dangerous and poisonous toxic waste, thus reducing fishing activities. The other issue is that there is a growing concern all over the world that sea products are decreasing due to adverse climatic conditions.”

Another fisherman, based in Hobyo, said he had seen evidence with his own eyes.

“A few weeks ago, three big unidentified containers washed onto our seashore, the next day we saw a number of dead fish along the shore,” Mohamed Hirre told Somalia Report. “That means that illegal dumping is continuing unabated in Somalia ... we will only witness the reduction of our fish stocks in the next few years if the world doesn’t protect our sea.”

Alessandro Gianni, Campaign Director in Greenpeace’s Italian office, acknowledges they have no programs in Somalia due to security, and thus it is hard to prove anything in the current climate. However, he points to signs in Italy that efforts are still ongoing to use Somalia as a rubbish dump.

“We know that last summer the Italian Customs blocked some containers loaded with 45 tons of car scraps in the harbour of Gioia Tauro,” he told Somalia Report. “According to a press release issued by the customs authorities, the waste – declared as automotive ‘spare parts’ - was bound to Somalia.”

Ecoterra Intl, a marine monitoring group that also tracks piracy, says it has evidence that foreign vessels are still using Somalia’s un-policed waters to dump a variety of nasty goods. But the group, which says it is working on court cases, refused to reveal any of its proof when contacted by Somalia Report.

The case against

As for the foreign navies, they dismiss out of hand allegations that they are shielding nefarious dumping vessels, or that any wrongdoing is taking place anywhere in the areas they patrol.

“We have seen absolutely no evidence of such activity at all. There has been some of this many years ago, but not any more in the last years,” Commodore Michiel B Hijmans, former commander of NATO’s anti-piracy mission Ocean Shield, told Somalia Report before he handed over his responsibilities to his successor in June.

“I am afraid it is indeed just an excuse used to misinform, and by that to mislead, the Somali people and also some in the international community,” he added.

Nick Nuttall, spokesman for UNEP, said that a multi-agency team took water samples after the tsunami, but was unable to turn up any evidence of significant water pollution. He said his feeling was that toxic dumping was a “historical phenomenon”. However, he did admit that the chaotic nature of the situation in Somali meant that no proper studies had been done, and said nobody had “ever gotten to the bottom of these allegations”.

“This is a concern that dates back over two decades and UNEP some time ago was concerned that there might be illegal hazardous waste being taken to Somalia,” he told Somalia Report. “But, we have been unable in the intervening years to follow that up, in part because of security reasons and difficulties in getting a really top scientific team in to spend what would require some time to really carry out full assessments.”

One of the cornerstone "proof" documents was a report created by Mahdi Gedi Qayad who traveled to the region in May and June of 1997, talked to local leaders, walked on the beach and wrote a simple 6 page report that found no evidence of toxic waste dumping other than the verbal testimony of the locals. The report was not released to the public but was often cited as United Nations proof of toxic dumping when in fact no proof was provided. The aftermath of the 2004 tsunami also provided more "proof" in the form of containers, debris and industrial items that were labeled as evidence of toxic dumping but again no scientific connection between toxicity and these containers were created.

Another example of a 'suspect' container
©Somalia Report
Another example of a 'suspect' container

'Suspect' containers

As shown by Hirre’s testimony, delivered by telephone earlier this year, reports still pop up that suspect containers have washed up, particularly around Hobyo. However, part of the problem is that local communities seem to treat any flotsam (floating wreckage of a cargo or ship) or jetsam (part of a ship or cargo thrown overboard in times of distress) that arrives on their beaches as proof of toxic dumping. At one point, Somalia Report was promised a picture of a waste container. When it arrived, it turned out to be nothing more than a navigation buoy.

Somalia Report sent a correspondent to Hobyo to look at the containers and take pictures of them. Our reporter was told there were at least five containers, but he was only able to view three during his visit due to insecurity (at one point he was kidnapped by a local militia). Each container he was shown had been there for at least two years, and Hobyo residents told him they had not seen anything new wash up since.

The containers our reporter viewed on the beaches were for the most part empty, and looked as though they had been in the water a long time before washing up. Equally, there was nothing to suggest that their contents had ever been dangerous.

We sent pictures of the containers to Glen Forbes, who served in the Royal Navy for over three decades and now runs OCEANUSLive, a site aimed at improving the safety of seamen through communication. Forbes said it was “very unlikely they would have been used for the transportation of toxic waste”.

“They appear to be jetsam (possibly flotsam),” he told Somalia Report. “They would have made very poor containers.”

However, Forbes said that the containers would need to undergo toxicology analysis to be absolutely sure of their origins.

Uncertainty rules

With such a poor haul of hard evidence on show, the case for toxic dumping remaining a problem is decidedly weak, resting largely on tales passed around fishing communities. The flip side, however, is that it cannot be proven that dumping is not taking place, and it would be naive to preclude the possibility of such behavior given the number of unscrupulous corporations who have shown they will do exactly that given half a chance. However almost every general story about the birth of piracy, conditions of the coastal communities will add the effects of toxic waste dumping as a root cause of their decline. The acceptance of toxic dumping (along with the supposed former existence of a robust indigenous fishing industry) has added a false sense of moral purpose, external abuse and blurred the focus on piracy as a purely home grown criminal activity. Greenpeace, in its 2010 report, called on the UN to carry out an independent assessment, particularly in the area of Eel Ma'aan - a demand unlikely to be met any time soon given the UN's reticence to send their staff into areas where they could be shot or kidnapped.

Until such times as the security in Somalia improves enough to allow proper research from reputable environmental groups, or a company is caught in the act of disposing of its sludge - as was the case when oil-trading company Trafigura was in 2010 found guilty of dumping hazardous waste in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, four years earlier - pirates and fishermen will continue to claim they are the victims of an international conspiracy, and their claims will be brushed off by those they accuse.

Even if hazardous waste is still being jettisoned into Somali waters, the pirates' insistence that they are defenders of the coastline is nothing more than a line to justify their money-making ventures. If they were truly serious, they would target only vessels involved in dumping and illegal fishing and share the ransom money with local communities hit by these practices. Instead, they target oil tankers and yachts and blow their ill-gotten gains on khat, prostitutes and fancy cars.

(Somalia Report journalists Muhyadin Ahmed Roble, Abdullahi Jamaa and Andrew Mwanguara contributed to this report)