Post-tsunami: Chemical/Nuclear Alarm in Somalia

Posted on March, 31 2005

One of the most serious “collateral effects” of the tsunami is emerging in Somalia: large quantities of illegal toxic waste products are being unearthed. The WWF Italy writes to parliamentary Commissions addressing the issues of waste products and the Ilaria Alpi case and exhorting an explanation on these.

The WWF Italy reports on a previously barely known chapter in the recent UNEP report on the environmental effects of the tsunami in different countries: according to the experts the huge seaquake has resulted in massive quantities of toxic waste, some of which is radio-active, re-emerging along the coasts of Somalia. It is presumed that these waste products,, which had been buried in the Indian Ocean for some time, largely come from Europe. Thus, Somalia is under alarm in these days for one of the most terrible collateral effects of the tsunami which, after having hit 6 countries in South-East Asia last December 6th, also devastated over 650 km of coasts in the northern hemisphere in Somalia, between Hafun and Garacad, causing around 300 deaths and over 18.000 homeless people.

The UNEP report highlights that following the seaquake certain populations in the northern coasts of Somalia became affected with unusual pathologies, which can easily be linked to serious incidents of pollution. The symptoms of these illnesses include acute infections of the respiratory apparatus, mouth-bleedings, abdominal haemorrhages. This extremely serious situation recently prompted a Somali MP , Mr Awad Ahmed Ashra, to launch a formal appeal to the international community asking for the area to be cleared of the toxic waste unearthed during the tsunami.

Michele Candotti, Secretary General for the WWF Italy, commented as follows on the issue:” Our country, too, has a grave responsibility in respect of what is occurring in Somalia. We must respond to the requests which have already been articulated by the UNEP and by the Somali MPs calling for help on an international level to proceed with the investigations and the decontamination. The part played by Italian enterprises in the illegal commerce of toxic wastes is also well know to the UNEP, as was highlighted in the alarm launched by the Secretary General Mustafà Tolba in 1992, and as has been reiterated in several reports by the very parliamentary Commission for Inquiries on Waste Products. Today, the dramatic effects of said illegal commerce, which environmentalists have been reporting on for years, are re-emerging.”

The WWF Italy has written a letter to the parliamentary Commissions on Waste Products and Ilaria Alpi asking for the ulterior elements that emerged in the UNEP reports to be evaluated, and stressing the need for specific, in-depth research on the illegal commerce of waste products which involves Somalia and the European countries, including Italy. The letter also addresses the possibility of building up contacts with the Somalian authorities, for example through an in loco mission organised by the Commission. Both Nick Nuttal, UNEP Speaker, and the above-mentioned Somali MP reported on the wide-spread contamination through extremely harmful substances such as uranium, mercury, and cadmium, as well as hospital waste products, and industrial waste contained in barrels which were at the bottom of the ocean, or barely buried under the sand. At times these containers were closed in the most rudimentary of manners and were then destroyed through the extremely violent impact of the waves provoked by the tsunami.
READ the full text of the letter sent by the President of the WWF Italy to the parliamentary Commissions on the event of toxic waste in Somalia (pdf, in italian)>>

“The post-tsunami effect could have devastating consequences for the entire Eastern Coast in Africa,”, Michele Candotti underlined, “ …not only will the inhabitants of today see their health compromised by this, but they will also suffer from the damaging effects on fundamental activities such as fishing and agriculture and this will create an irreversible series of damages to future generations. It is well known that many African regions have been used for years as true dumping-grounds by many European countries, including Italy. Suffice it to remember that whilst in Europe the disposal of 1 tonne of toxic waste will carry a cost of over $1000, the same operation in Africa will cost no more than $8. This is a dirty affair, the details of which have been known since the ‘90s and which has seen the involvement of meddlers and criminals who easily took advantage of the absence of local governments. Probably, this situation is also one of the keys towards understanding the motives behind the murder of the TG3 journalist, Ilaria Alpi, which occurred exactly in Somalia.”

Further findings on this front were published in the surveys issued by the Africa Stockpile Programme, an international programme which brings together several international institutions including the UNEP, the FAO, and the WWF and which was conceived with the involvement of various African countries to remove the thousands of tonnes of pesticides that were stocked for at least 40 years without security measures. The surveys revealed at least 1400 toxic sites in Africa where substances, that are now considered illegal, are found in high concentration. These substances include the notorious POPs ( persistent organic pollutants, amongst which DDT).

The very Somali Minister for the Environment, Mohamed Osman Maye, recently addressed the issue during a press-conference he held “in exile” in Nairobi. “What is urgently required now is the intervention of expert that may establish the characteristics and origin of the toxic waste products……and, thus, save what is still saveable”, the Minister declared. Somali sources also commented on the fact that over the past years, the “War Lords” received large sums in exchange for authorisation to burry toxic waste along the Somali coasts.

Download the UNEP report on the effects of the tsunami on the Somali coast (pdf) >>

Download the WWF Italy - Legambiente report on poisonous shipments (pdf, in italian) >>

Translation by Isabella Trupke
Somalian people