In February of 2005 the United Nations announced that containers filled with radioactive materials, industrial and medical waste had washed ashore in Somalia.
A United Nations' report released this week says nuclear and hazardous wastes dumped on Somalia's shores had been scattered by the recent Asian tsunami and are now infecting Somalis in coastal areas.
A spokesman for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Nick Nuttall, told VOA that for the past 15 years or so, European companies and others have used Somalia as a dumping ground for a wide array of nuclear and hazardous wastes.
"There's uranium radioactive waste, there's leads, there's heavy metals like cadmium and mercury, there's industrial wastes, and there's hospital wastes, chemical wastes, you name it,” he said. “It's not rocket science to know why they're doing it because of the instability there."
Mr. Nuttall said, on average, it cost European companies $2.50 per ton to dump the wastes on Somalia's beaches rather than $250 a ton to dispose of the wastes in Europe.
Recently a Somali ex-patriot named K’Nann posted on the internet explaining why the Somali people did not oppose the piracy that is rampant along their coasts.
Already by this time, local fishermen in the coastline of Somalia have been complaining of illegal vessels coming to Somali waters and stealing all the fish. And since there was no government to report it to, and since the severity of the violence clumsily overshadowed every other problem, the fishermen went completely unheard.
But it was around this same time that a more sinister, a more patronizing practice was being put in motion. A Swiss firm called Achair Parterns, and an Italian waste company called Achair Parterns, made a deal with Ali Mahdi, that they were to dump containers of waste material in Somali waters. These European companies were said to be paying Warlords about $3 a ton, whereas to properly dispose of waste in Europe costs about $1000 a ton.
The UN envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, says that the practice still continues to this day. It was months after those initial reports that local fishermen mobilized themselves, along with street militias, to go into the waters and deter the Westerners from having a free pass at completely destroying Somalia's aquatic life. Now years later, the deterring has become less noble, and the ex-fishermen with their militias have begun to develop a taste for ransom at sea. This form of piracy is now a major contributor to the Somali economy, especially in the very region that private toxic waste companies first began to burry our nation's death trap.
Mr. K’Nann is suggesting that current piracy have its roots in residents who were determined to protect their fishing rights and their waters from pollution. In the years following the start of dumping the effort has gone from something justifiable, to villainous. While this is likely a major simplification of events, it’s just interesting to note that this major geopolitical problem may have its roots in environmental degradation.