Toxic waste spawning radioactive diseases in Somalia coastline: UN

Report
from Agence France-Presse
Published on 04 Mar 2005
by Bokongo Bosire

NAIROBI, March 4 (AFP) - Highly toxic waste washed on to Somali's coastline by last December's tsumani has spawned illnesses with symptoms like radioactive exposure in villagers along the shore of the shattered African nation, the UN Environment Programme said on Friday.

Citing initial reports, UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall told AFP that "there are indications that harzardous waste, radioactive waste, chemical waste and other substances, (in containers) which have been dumped on the Somali coastline, were damaged by the tsunami."

"Somalia is one of the Least Developed Countries that received countless shipments of illegal nuclear and toxic waste dumped along the coastline," UNEP said UNEP in a new report, "After The Tsunami - Rapid Environmental Assessment."

UN officials said the deadly waves, which originated off Indonesia on December 26, possibly damaged the containers in northern Somalia and spilled the waste to the open, from where it spread further -- either by wind and humans -- causing diseases.

Nuttall said United Nations agencies working in northern Somalia, a country that has been wracked by anarchy since 1991 and has no any reliable health monitoring equipment, reported symptoms of diseases.

There are reports from villagers of a wide range of medical problems: acute respiratory infections, dry heavy coughing, mouth bleeds, abdominal haemorrhages, unusual skin disorders and breathing difficulties, Nuttall said.

UN officials familiar with the situation say the diseases bear radiation sickness symptoms.

"UNEP is in discussions with (Somali) government with a view to sending a full assessment mission to the country so that we can work out the magnitude of the problem," Nuttall explained in Nairobi.

Somali authorities reported that nearly 300 people -- a figure the humanitarian agencies dispute -- were killed and thousands displaced by the tsunami waves, which were sparked by an undersea quake in Indonesia.

Along other Indian Ocean shorelines, up to 290,000 people died.

In the late 1980s, European firms dumped wastes such as uranium, lead, cadmium, mercury, industrial, hospital, chemical, leather treatment and other waste in northern Somalia, but the trend picked up rapidly after the violent ouster of strongman Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991, according to the United Nations.

Somalia watchers have said that the country's warlords controlling fiefdoms alomg the shoreline were paid hefty amounts of cash to allow waste to be dumped there.

"Most of the waste was simply dumped on the beaches in containers and disposable leaking barrels, which ranged from small to big tanks without regard to the health of the local population and environmentally devastating impacts," the report added.

The report warned that radioactive contamination can cause "serious long-term effects on human health as well as severe impacts on groundwater, soil, agriculture and fisheries for many years."

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