SOMALIA'S DEGRADING ENVIRONMENT

Causes and Effects of Deforestation and
Hazardous Waste Dumping in Somalia

An essay prepared for a PhD course of 'Environmental Systems Analysis & Management' given by the Division of Industrial Ecology, KTH. The essay is presented at a final seminar for the course, on 11-12 June 2001 in the division.

ABDULLAHI ELMI MOHAMED
B.Sc., M.Sc. Lic.Eng. Ph.D. Candidate at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering,
Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), 100 44 Stockholm SWEDEN. E-mail: elmi@kth.se

1. INTRODUCTION

General

Environment [1] is increasingly becoming an important issue in the world politics and global economy as well as people's life. Environmental deterioration [2] is now a global issue - ecologically, economically, politically [3] - that require global solution (Elliott, 1998). Today, the most notable environmental problems in the world include global warming leading to climate change, water pollution contributing to human health problems, deforestation resulting desertification, destruction of species, ozone depletion, increasing urban and industrial wastes, etc. Human activity and life is changing the environment in ways, on scale, quite unlike in any other era, making our common future [4] in jeopardy. Environmental problems occur in the interaction between two complex systems, the human-society system and the ecological system. However, to preserve security [5], the entire human environment[6] is taken into consideration (Graeger, 1996).

Large percentage of people's illness in poor countries is directly linked to the pollution of their natural environment. Improved environment resulting improved public health is therefore a clear element in the struggle and the strategy of poverty eradication. In general terms, population growth, economic development and growing inequality in income all put greater pressure on the ecosystems. Moreover, poverty [7] and political conflict, whish are the features of most developing countries, also cause environmental damage. Environmental degradation increases the poverty of those who are already poor especially in those parts of the world where livelihoods and lives are closely dependent on natural environment (Elliott, 1998).
Globally, deforestation and illegal hazardous waste dumping, among other abuses, are human conducts bankrupting natural resources of future generations.

The Scope and the Purpose of the Paper

Somali is by no means an exception in the above situation. There are substantial challenges of environmental concerns in the country, which is far less studied. The country suffers from almost all types of environmental degradations. In one hand, Somalia is experiencing enormous environmental problems, while on the other hand it is lacking both human and financial resources as well as political stability to address these life affecting issues. In view of these above-mentioned situations, the paper will concentrate on describing and analyzing the subject in relation to Somalia. It will particularly focus on legal and moral aspects of deforestation and hazardous waste dumping in the country. The purpose of the paper is to discuss and shed some light through analysis on deforestation and illegal hazardous waste dumping in Somalia. As methodology, literature and document review, information gathered from relevant organizations was carried out.

Background to Somalia

Located in the Horn of Africa, adjacent to the Arabian Peninsula, Somalia is geographically located in a very advantageous region, bordering both Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. Country's land area is estimated to 637 660 km2. It shares borders with Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

The modern history of Somalia constitutes about 120 years (1880-2000): 80 years (1880-1960) of colonial rule (Lewis, 1988) and division; 30 years (1960-1990) of democratic but mostly military rule and; 10 years (1991-2001) of chaos and State collapse. The widespread famine [8] in Somalia in 1992-93 caused by low agricultural yield due to several years of droughts combined with bloody civil war has resulted the largest UN humanitarian efforts and peacekeeping operations in history. Despite being politically disintegrated, Somali has culturally and ethnically homogenous society. Poverty, which together with injustice is threatening the integrity of the nation, is the major root of social conflict and cause of the current political crisis in Somalia.

The country has an estimated population of about 9 million in 1995, of which 75% in rural areas [9]. Rate of population growth is about 3%, while Mogadishu is growing by a rate of 10% a year (World Bank, 1995). Agriculture is the second traditional occupation for most Somalis, after nomadic livestock [10] grazing/raising. Livestock and banana export is country's two principal revenue generating sectors. Somalia has one of the lowest human development index (HDI) in the world.

Physical Environment

Most of the country is typically sparse savanna with few forested areas. According to the World Band, 55% of Somalia's land area is suitable for grazing, while the FAO estimate is lower, 29%, but still shows the greater for livestock production. Official estimates of Somalia's forest cover refer to 52,000 hectares of "dense" forest and 5.7 million hectares of "low density wood" (Somalia, 1987, ch. 7), this means that 9% of the total land is low density woodland - savanna woodlands. This is to indicate country's limited amount of wood resources, which mainly consist of Acacias trees. On the other hand, Somalia has the longest coastline of Africa, which stretches a distance of about 3300 km in both the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. The long coastline is of importance chiefly permitting trade with the Middle East and the rest of East Africa.

Historical and Ongoing Country's Environmental Concerns

Somalia is currently experiencing almost all types of environmental concerns, both natural and man-made.

Natural Environmental Problems:
Indicating the level of water scarcity, rainfall is very low (250 mm/y) and variable, while the potential evaporation is extremely very high (over 2000 mm/y). Droughts that occur very frequent are naturally caused by climate. It leads to water shortage and starvation particularly for the rural communities, which are more dependent on rainwater and grass for their survival in livestock raising and cultivation traditions. Being a natural disaster, drought causes loss of life both human and animal every year in Somalia. Deadly droughts is often followed by devastating floods, another natural disaster, which mainly severely affects southern part of the country, where the two rivers, the Juba and the Shabelle, flow. These recurrent drought and severe floods affect the lives of the people and their animals without prediction and prevention.

Man-made Environmental Problems:
Human-induced environmental abuses include: water pollution contributing to human health problems; alarming deforestation and overgrazing resulting desertification and soil erosion; salinisation by inefficient irrigation destroying valuable productive land; illegal fishing and industrial toxic waste dumping in the sea and coastline areas by outsiders; improper disposal of human and solid waste by local people affecting the public health; hunting and extinction of wildlife; and degradation of coastal zones. Increasing population living along the coastline put a significant pressure on coastal aquifers for freshwater supply. Vast marine resources are under unprecedented threat from overexploitation and pollution by outsiders.

No Environmental Agency Ever Established:
Despite of these major concerns, no central (governmental) coordinating body charged with environmental protection exist, even prior to the collapse of the state in 1991. However, several ministries and state agencies were concerned with protection and management of the environment as part of their function during the period before the civil war. National Parks Agency was established in 1970 for the purpose of establishing parks and reserve area. There was no however a single protected area listed in the country as late as 1991 (UNEP, 1993). The National Range Agency, founded in 1976, was empowered, inter alia, to establish grazing and drought reserves, and to prevent and control soil erosion on the range.

Among the limited range of concrete steps taken was the prohibition in 1969 of charcoal and firewood export, in order to protect trees. This was amended in 1972 to give a monopoly of charcoal exports to the National Commercial Agency [11]. Prior to the state collapse, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, founded in 1977, was responsible for prevention pollution of the sea. However, the capacity to control the long coastline was always lacking and no control of pollution has even existed.

2. DEFORESTATION in Somalia

Deforestation - The Result of Charcoal

Charcoal [12] plays an important role in both the energy sectors and the economies of most African countries. Charcoal making provides a considerable amount of employment in rural areas; it also allows for a quick return on investments. However, the inefficiencies inherent to the production and use of charcoal place a heavy strain on local wood resources, resulting severe environmental consequences. In many parts of the world, the use of charcoal has been blamed for deforestation [13]. Deforestation in the drier parts of Africa has led to an even worse problem - desertification and the loss of thousands of species. Deforestation is the product of the interaction of many environmental, social, political, economic and cultural forces at work in any given region.

SOMALIA - Deforested Country

During the last several years, a new type of business was introduced in Somalia. Cutting of trees to produce charcoal for export to the Gulf States has become a big business with considerable profits. In order to optimize the operation, local businessmen introduced a new technology - battery-powered chain saws for cutting of the forests. Trees are cut down, burn and brought by trucks for export from major ports in the country, particularly Mogadishu, Kismayo and Bosaso (BBC, 2000; and local newspapers) [14]. Becoming Somalia's black gold, traders earn about $US million per ship (IRIN, 2000). Most of the charcoal is made in southern Somalia, while northern and eastern regions also experience the same problem but to a lesser extent. More than 80% of the trees used for charcoal are types of Acacia, the most dominant species (IRIN, 2000). Due to absence of government, there is no documentation of the volumes being exported or the amount of trees being cut down.

Causes Behind the Conduct

The alarming rate of deforestation has a number of combined causes behind it. It is evident that it is largely a combination of human activities and social conditions.

Charcoal for Urban and Firewood for Rural:
Somalia has the lowest consumption of modern forms of energy in the Sub-Saharan Africa[15]. Firewood and charcoal are the major sources of energy for the majority of the people in Somalia. As a result of this, the removal of trees in Somalia is steadily increasing, following demographic trends, which are reversing the traditional Somali nomadic way of life, as well as other social crisis. As their source of energy, rural people rely on firewood while urban inhabitants use charcoal. Mogadishu's charcoal supply comes mainly from the south. In rural areas, strong link between poverty and deforestation exist. Like other countries in Sub-Sahara Africa, Somalia is presently, as well as in the past, suffering from energy problems. Power and fuels cut-off have been frequent in all urban centers, access to electricity have also been poor or unreliable, if not absent.

Potential Energy Resources - Un-exploited Sources:
Yet Somalia is rich in energy resources, having un-exploited reserves of oil and natural gas, untapped hydropower, extensive geothermal energy resources, many promising wind sites, and abundant sunshine, which can produce solar power. Despite all these, traditional biomass fuels - mainly firewood and charcoal, the smoky and inefficient fuels of the poor - account for 82% of the country's total energy consumption (Makakis, 1998 p.74). Technically, it would not be problem to develop these potentially available energy resources. Major obstacles are today political, financial and institutional.

Foreign Demand for Charcoal - the Major Driving Force:
Traditionally, the making of charcoal was limited to a small group of cutters who used hand axes and responded to an internal and very localized demand, which during the last several years started to increase. In spite of increases in local consumption, foreign demand for charcoal puts unprecedented pressure on locally limited wood resources. Taking full advantage of country's lawless condition, interest-driven local businessmen[16] with commercial links in the Gulf countries export tremendous amount of charcoal to mainly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Charcoal from dry land in poor Somalia is used in the houses of the Gulf countries as luxurious.

Lack of Government - An Opportunity for Outsiders:
Being without government since 1991 when the former regime was overthrown, Somalia is the only country in modern history of the world which lacked central government so long[17]. Since then the country is ruled by a series of rival warlords each holding a small territory of the country. This created a condition which the country became stateless vulnerable for anyone's exploitation particularly outsiders and local self-interest-driven individuals. This lack of functional system of government and control facilitated these individuals to run these unsustainable business activities damaging local natural environment. Lack of government in Somalia could therefore be seen as the major cause of the ongoing deforestation.

The Issue of Land - Legal Perspectives:
Institutional arrangement that specify rules, rights and obligation for the use of natural resources are called property rights regimes [18] (Bromley, 1991; Hanna, 1999). During the rule of the last regime (1969-1991), government have tended to try to increase their control in land previously owned collectively by the communities in the rural areas. This was done through shifting the land-ownership from communal to state in pursuit of revenues. By the 1975 Land Law, all land in Somalia is nationalized. The new Law demands mandatory land registration which traditional landholders resisted. Consequently this has progressively limited local rights rather than supported. As the state authorities lacked capacities to manage and control the nationalized land, this legislation (of making the land a state property) made the land no man's land with open-access type of property-rights regime [19]. The effect of that 1975 Land Law is therefore highly relevant for the ongoing land degradation. After the state collapse in 1991, the result became the creation of 'ownerless' land with open-access to anyone's exploitation which accelerated, among other abuses, the rate of deforestation. The land property which the state of Somalia had claimed as its own and which the rulers had exploited during the military regime now became fair game for the new power brokers. Now as the people increase dramatically and some of the land naturally and antropogenically became degraded, new land with life-supporting-resource are required. Struggle for such a land thus became one of the major sources of the present conflic [20]. Common resources, such as forest, which is free and open for all, tend to be vulnerable to depletion and degradation due to overuse and misuse, this is commonly referred to as "the tragedy of commons" (Hardin, 1968).

Adverse Environmental Consequences of Deforestation

The illegal removal of trees in Somalia to produce charcoal for export is an action destroying the common national capital, which the society does not benefit. Although public awareness of the impact of the deforestation in Somalia has increased in recent years through media, it has not slowed the alarming rate of deforestation appreciably. As a result of deforestation, land suitable for grazing is destroyed. This will inevitably affect the nomadic communities who entirely depend on grazing. The most visible results of this action are desertification, soil erosion, and general environmental degradation. The highest price will be the long-term effect in desertification [21] .

The valuable role of trees in controlling runoff and water and the positive interaction of acacias with crops and animals are reasons why much more emphasis needs to be given to the forest protection. Deforestation will have major adverse impacts on rainfall availability, capacity of the soil to hold water, local climate, and habitat for animal species and bio-diversity. Basically, humans abandon areas that have been cleared, particularly when the community is nomadic depending on grazing for their animals. All these will finally collectively affect the livelihood and socio-economic aspect of the society.

In addition to environmental impacts, deforestation as an income-generating activity also causes internal dispute and conflict within the society. In 1997, actions taken by local chiefs and clan elders in areas in central Somalia who tried to prohibit charcoal cutting led to conflict, that resulted loss of life (IRIN, 2000).

3. ILLEGAL HAZARDOUS WASTE DUMPING in Somalia

Hazardous Waste and Illegal Dumping

World's chemical industries and nuclear energy plants[22] have already generated millions of tons of hazardous wastes[23]. Industrialized countries generate over 90% of the world's hazardous wastes (WCED, 1987). The high growth of industries in developed countries was accompanied by an equally high increase in the production of toxic hazardous wastes. But the technological capacity to handle these by-products - wastes, was not developing by the same level. This is the reason why problem of these wastes, particularly nuclear wastes, still remains unsolved. Taking advantage of political instability and high level of corruption but lured by the potential financial gains, poor African nations [24] have been used as the dumping sites for hazardous toxic waste materials from developed countries. In some cases, the income generated from this trade, of importing hazardous waste from the West, have exceeded the GNP of many poor countries. Poverty is the reason of accepting importation of toxic wastes [25] . Bearing the cost of the damage caused by the hazardous wastes, Africa disbenefit the entire attempt of generating revenue to alleviate poverty. This do-or-die method become an alternative solution to the desperate search for revenue for some African countries, which are ill-equipped to dispose these health and environment threatening wastes. Both the exporting and importing counterparts violated international treaties to which most countries in the world are signatories.

SOMALIA - World's Most Attractive Illegal Hazardous Waste Dumping Site

During the Somali civil war, hazardous wastes were dumped in industrialized countries. In the fall of 1992 reports began to appear in the international media concerning unnamed European firms that were illegally dumping hazardous waste in Somalia [26]. What caused controversy in 1992 were reports of a contract established by European firms with local warlords. The alleged perpetrators were Italian [27] and Swiss firms who entered contracts with Somali warlords and businessmen to dump waste in the country.

Investigations by the UNEP
In a news release statement (Tolba, 1992) by then executive director of the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) situated in Nairobi, Dr. Mustafa Kamal Tolba, it became apparent that the European firms was disposing a hazardous waste in Somalia. The UNEP started to investigate the matter five years later in 1997 and hired Mahdi Geddi Qayad[28] as a team leader (for a period of one month) to carry a field investigation in many areas of Somalia particularly coastal zones. The outcome of the investigation (a report) was not published but an Italian newspaper has succeeded to receive a copy of the report.

Familgia Cristiana - an Italian Newspaper
Familgia Cristiana - an Italian Newspaper, has published several articles about the issue during 1998 (Familgia Cristiana, 1998). Based on the UNEP investigations as well as its own investigation, the newspaper gave relatively a detailed description. Familgia Cristiana (1998c) showed a map over the country particularly areas where wastes have been dumped and pictures taken from places where signs of the dumping could still be seen. According to the newspaper, waste dumping concentrated both in coastal zones and inland areas. Naming several individuals both Somalis and foreigners who involved in the waste transport, the newspaper disclosed many secrets in the business both in terms of deals made and health impacts on local people. In an $80 million contract in late 1991, two Swiss and Italian firms, Achair Partners and Progresso, would be allowed by senior local politicians at the time to build a 10 million ton storage facility for hazardous waste at the rate of 500 000 tons a year. Although the major part of the waste dumping in Somalia occurred after the state collapse in 1991, the activity has started even during the former regime in 1989 (Familgia Cristiana, 1998d).

According to the newspaper, there are ongoing dumping activities inside the country, and Mr. Halifa Omar Darameh of the UNEP said "our concerns are the negative consequences that these dumping can cause in the immediate future, and it is unfortunately impossible to safeguard a long coastline of
3 300 km long".

Parliamentary Report
In view of these serious waste dumping allegations against the Italian and Swiss firms, the Italian Parliament demanded a study on the issue. A commission has been established. The final report (produced in 2000) of the parliamentary study said the so-called "Eco-Mafia"[29] run companies dealing with 35 million tons of waste a year, making $US 6.6 million. According to the report, radioactive waste from Italy dumped in Somalia may have affected Italian soldiers based there with a UN force in the mid-1990s. The report also disclosed that the Mafia controls about 30 percent of Italy's waste disposal companies, including toxic waste, according to a parliamentary study.

Why Dumping in Somalia

Several European companies are engaged in the business of dumping industrial and chemical wastes in Somalia. The relevant question is why is it that waste-dealers and importers ignore the long-term effect and obvious dangers associated with illegal dumping of toxic wastes in poor countries. But the more relevant question is why dumping in Somalia? Reasons that made Somalia world's most attractive waste dumping site are many and below are the most likely ones:

Negative Environmental Consequences and Impacts on Related Issues

The effects of hazardous wastes dumped improperly on both human and other environmental components are inestimable. According to the newspaper (Familgia Cristiana, 1998), UNEP investigations and local people, the health effects so far identified are enormous. These include (i) the death of fisherman in the town of Brawe after opening a small container collected from the sea, (ii) the death of several people living the along the coastline who drunk water in a container, (iii) the increase of patients with cancer in Somalia, which were related to the toxicity of the wastes dumped in the country. In addition, a study made by an Algerian expert explained the link between the recent years' increase in livestock's death and the toxic waste dumping in the country. Dr. Pirko of the UNICEF said that the town of Bardere experienced unknown disease that caused the death of 120 people after suffering noise bleedings. This was also related to the toxicity. Premature births that occurred were due to the high toxicity of the dumpsite.

However, no research has been carried out on the existing and the potential environmental and social impacts of the waste dumping. The negative long-term impacts are expecting to be huge particularly pollution of the groundwater and fish resources, which will inevitably affect the overall public health and the entire socio-economy of the country.

International Legal Instruments of Hazardous Wastes

The issue of waste dumping in Somalia is twofold in that it is both a moral and legal questions. First, it is ethically questionable to dump a toxic waste [31] in a very poor country in the midst of a protracted civil war with no central government. Being against moral principles, these conducts are beyond humanity and games played on the lives of innocent people. Second, there is a violation of international law in the export of hazardous waste to Somalia. Below are the international and regional laws regulating the waste transport.

The Basel Convention
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements [32] of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal is a broad and significant international treaty on hazardous waste. It was adopted in 1989 and entered into force on May 1992. The Basel Convention, ratified by 135 countries, is the response of the international communities to the problems caused by the ever increasing toxic wastes which are hazardous to people and the environment. Italy and Switzerland, whose private firms have been accused to dump waste in Somalia, are parties to the Convention, while Somalia is not. Regulating the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes and providing obligation to its parties to ensure that such wastes are disposed of in an environmentally sound manner, one of the main principles of the Convention is that the hazardous waste should be treated and disposed of as close as possible to their source of generation. In addition, the Basel Convention urges that the generation and movement of hazardous waste should be minimized.

OAU Ban on Waste Transport
Equally important and with more regional significance was the voting of a resolution by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to ban member countries from accepting industrial waste products. Half of members of the OAU are non-signatories of the Basel Convention. Despite the OAU's attempt to ban such trade, member countries have violated the ban. The reasons for doing so are based on economics; the need to generate substantial amounts of revenue to alleviate the economic hardships faced by Africa.

4. CONCLUSION

This paper gave an overview of Somalia's degrading environment, particularly the ongoing deforestation and illegal hazardous waste dumping during the last decade. Since the state collapse in 1991, country's environmental degradation has accelerated, especially the rate of deforestation has steadily accelerated while toxic waste dumping became newly established business. Because of the country's political condition and the lack of central system of government, many foreign private companies, which are taking full advantages of the lawlessness and lack of central government in Somalia, started to either plunder or pollute country's natural resources. These opportunistic activities started immediate after the state collapse. Both deforestation and illegal toxic waste dumping in Somalia became evident after the disintegration of the country into clan-based areas following the overthrown the dictatorial military regime in 1991.

No research at any level has been conducted in Somalia, concerning the deforestation as well as the hazardous waste dumping. Particularly, the amount of waste dumped, the number of trees cut down and their environmental social impacts. As deforestation will affect more than forests, the remaining forest reserves need to be protected.

Charcoal export has become a big profitable business for local businessmen and their clients in the Gulf countries, who deliberately take full advantage of Somalia's lawless condition. The rate of deforestation in many parts of Somalia is alarming. These deadly business activities run by narrow-sighted self-interest individuals.

Taking Somalia as a case study, the paper indicates how poor countries in the developing world became targets for the Eco-Mafia dealing with the international traffic of toxic wastes generated in industrialized countries. Searching for cheaper ways to get rid of the wastes, the Eco-Mafia establishes local contacts especially irresponsible politicians and self-interest businessmen. European private firms particularly Italian and Swiss has been accused of illegally dumping hazardous wastes in Somalia during the last decade. This illegal and immoral trade of charcoal and waste dumping are done in the knowledge of what the consequences are for the country. This is one of the worst things currently happening in Somalia's natural environment and very high price for will be paid in the future. Through illegally dumping toxic waste from industrialized countries and foreign induced deforestation, Somalia's natural resources of future generations are bankrupted and plundered for profit. These merciless damages to Somali's natural environment are legally and morally unacceptable.

These cases are just a few, which demonstrate the ineffectiveness of global attempts to regulate an industry that overshadow its very hazardous impacts. The lack of laws to protect the environment is nowhere as evident as in Somalia.

Apart from charcoal and hazardous waste dumping; illegal fishing, merciless hunting, water pollution, are all environmental abuses that have gone unchecked in Somalia for over a decade. The threat and damage done to Somalia's environment will not receive the attention it merits as long as peace and political stability remain the main life-threatening conditions in the country. In its totality, the damage done to Somalia's natural environment is unimaginable and seems unmanageable even long after a solution is found for the current difficult prolonged political crisis.

Magnitude of water and environmental crisis and problems facing Somalia during this newly began century is unprecedented. The protection of Somalia's coastal zones from hazardous waste dumping and land from deforestation requires technological and organizational capacity as well as political stability sadly lacking in the country.

In terms of international law and moral principles, illegal dumping of hazardous waste is crime, particularly in areas where wastes are not originated and in poor people's land. As over-exploitation, misuse, destruction and pollution of natural resources are transgression against human existence and their natural environment, international as well as regional legal instruments regulating the illegal waste dumping are in place. Somalia has the legal right to be compensated what ever damage which the waste dumping and foreign-driven deforestation caused to the country.