SOMALIA: Radioactive waste surfaces in the coastline
by Mohamed Abdi
According to Mr. Mohammed O. Ali, the once clean blue-water coast off Somalia is littered with a toxic-waste calamity of health and environment hazards that has been dumped by Western chemical and shipping firms.
He said during a field research visit to some of the shorelines of the war torn nation, he personally witnessed the untold effect it was having on marine life and the fishing community. He added, the toxic dumping, which includes highly radioactive nuclear waste, was destroying the fragile coastal ecology and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Somalis. Some residents in Mogadishu’s coastal areas already reported hundreds of dead fish washing ashore every day.
During the height of the Somali civil war, Swiss and Italian firms Achair Partners and Progresso, signed a secret agreement with the transitional government of warlord Ali Mahdi Mohamed. Taking advantage of the chaos and the fact that Ali Mahdi was desperate for arms and cash to oust rival General Farah Aideed– the European firms began to unload thousands of tonnes of toxic waste arriving in steel drums off the coast of Somalia. Some even made it to the mainland and were buried in 40 inches by 30 inches holes.
The main perpetrators are said to be Italian firms controlled by the mafia, whose job is to dispose Europe’s extremely hazardous waste. Locals also suspect German and Danish shipping companies are in the trade, with some contracted to transport thousands of tonnes of poisonous stockpile including 60, 000 hexachlorobenzene (HCB) barrels from Australia.
They say, sometimes instead of taking the hazardous waste to Europe where it can be incinerated, they dump it in the Somali coast to save money and time and also they face strong opposition from Europe’s environmental action groups.
In 2010, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish port staff refused to unload a ship carrying 3000 tonnes of HCB waste from Sydney, Australia. Furthermore they said one gram of HCB was enough to contaminate one billion gallons (over 3 billion litres) of water.
The United Nation has in the past said it has reliable information that European and Asian firms have been dumping uranium radioactive waste, lead and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury off the coast of Somalia for the last two decades. The practice has infuriated many Somali fishing communities who took on the large foreign ships with their own fishing boats and small arms. Many fishermen hijacked ships demanding ransom to clean the coastline, this eventually led to the current piracy problem. They insist there was no one to safeguard the region so they had to take matters to their own hands.
The fishermen accused the 1000 strong Western naval force off the coast of Somalia of harassment and intermediations – they say they often robbed them at sea or dismantle their fishing nets. They are not the only group in Somalia that has complained about the foreign navies and their inappropriate conduct. Several times, Somali pastoral communities said they saw Western helicopters looting Somalia’s wildlife, often coming onshore to hunt.
Mr. Ali told media in Mogadishu, his government will take necessary steps against private firms polluting the Somali coast while it will request the United Nation to assist in cleaning up. He warned private companies against dumping any more toxic waste off Somalia saying they will be prosecuted and that it will no longer tolerate them.