The Indian Ocean Tsunami of 26 December 2004 affected part of Somalia, with most of the damage experienced in the north-east along a 650 km coastline stretching from Xafuun in the Bari region, to Garacad in the Mudug region. About 44,000 people are believed to have been affected by the tsunami.
As part of its response to the Indian Ocean tsunami, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) conducted a short study on tsunami-affected areas of Somalia in February 2005 to identify possible environmental impacts of this natural disaster which might have posed a threat to human health and livelihoods. Two main issues of concern were highlighted:
● the possible existence of tsunami-related hazardous and other waste that might pose a health hazard to the population and a threat to the environment; and
● the lack of up-to-date information on the state of the environment in Somalia, including lack of accurate data on the impact of the tsunami on the people.
Following the release of these preliminary findings during UNEP’s Governing Council (20 February 2005), UNEP was requested by the Somalia Transitional Federal Government to conduct a detailed Desk Study on the state of the environment in Somalia. It is against this background that this Desk Study has been prepared.
Findings of the Desk Study indicate that not much information is available with regard to many aspects of natural resources management, although there is still sufficient evidence to highlight a number of concerns over recent and current patterns of natural resources use. On the one hand Somalia is experiencing significant environmental problems, including deforestation, overfishing, overgrazing and soil erosion, while on the other it lacks both human and financial resources as well as a political structure and stability sufficient to allow these issues to be addressed at even the most basic level.
These problems have been compounded by a series of droughts over much of the country. Large numbers of people have died as a result of drought and starvation, and many livelihoods have been undermined as livestock herds succumbed to drought and food shortages. Heavy rains and flooding typically follow periods of drought, only adding to the burden which people may have already experienced.
The study makes three key overall recommendations that should form the centre of the recovery programme in Somalia:
● strengthening environmental governance to ensure the sustainable management of the country’s natural resource base;
● conducting environmental assessments to guide the setting of priorities for environmental recovery, resource management and development planning; and
● revitalising environmental co-operation with neighbouring countries and within the region, in order to support peace building, enhance important environmental initiatives, and share knowledge and information.
In addition, the study recommends specific interventions for immediate action. They include:
● proper management of waste, including effective containment and/or clean-up of all remaining stocks of pesticides in the country;
● institutional development and strengthening;
● control of soil erosion;
● fisheries management including taking measures against illegal fishing by foreign vessels;
● improved and controlled charcoal production;
● conducting field-based environmental assessments to inform future decision making; and
● improving national disaster preparedness and response capacity.
Recommended interventions for medium-term action include:
● reclaiming the protected area network;
● protection of marine resources;
● sustainable management of forest and woodland resources; and
● development of an adequate policy and legal framework for environmental management.
Rebuilding Somalia will take time and a huge, concerted and sustained effort by the international community as well the country itself. The formation of a Transitional Federal Government, and its installation in Somalia in June 2005, offer the first glimmer of hope that the situation might be improved.