Deforestation turning Somalia into desert


Published — Tuesday 20 November 2012

Last update 20 November 2012 1:14 am

| نسخة PDF Print News | A A

Hassan Hussein cuts down 40 trees every month to fuel his charcoal business, fully aware of the impact his action has on the environment.
But for the livestock keeper, the forests are the last remaining resource. And he is not alone.
Hundreds of thousands of Somalia’s traditional pastoralist herders do the same, putting their impoverished country on a path of heavy deforestation that risks turning large swathes of their country into a desert.
“I used to keep animals, but I lost my herd to famine and disease and a.m. the eldest in the family,” says Hussein, 27, adding that he has 10 mouths to feed back home — two children, seven brothers and his mother.
Four years ago, Hussein had 25 camels and 300 goats. Now, only three camels and 15 goats from his once respectable sized herd are left.
Thus every morning, with an axe slumped over his shoulder, he sets off in search of wood for charcoal.
Once he locates and cuts down a tree, it takes two days of burning, and two more days of cooling the smoldering heaps before he can sell the charcoal, at six dollars (five euros) for a 20 kg sack.
The village of Jaleo, in the northern self-declared state of Somaliland, once prided itself on being at the heart of the savannah.
British explorer Harald Swayne recounted, in his 19th century memoirs, the adventures he had while tracking and hunting “a large herd of elephants.” But the last elephant was killed in 1958, and were Swayne to retake his journey today, he would only find the smallest of game in a rocky landscape dotted with shrubs and charred tree stumps.
“Twenty percent of the forest has disappeared in the last ten years — definitely this country is turning into a desert,” Ahmed Derie Elmi, director of forests in Somaliland’s environment ministry, recently said.
“If the deforestation continues at this pace, this country will be a desert in two or three decades,” echoes Ahmed Ibrahim Awale of the Candlelight organization, which tackles environmental and health issues in Somaliland.
Charcoal burning has not always been preferred in Jalelo.
Three years ago an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in the Horn of Africa forced Gulf states to suspend importation of animals or animal products from the region, forcing the herders to look for alternative sources of income.
But it is urbanization and a population explosion that are the biggest threats to the country’s environmental wellbeing.
Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa has a population of 850,000 people, six times its population in the 1970s, which consumes approximately 250 tons of charcoal daily.
Elmi says that charcoal is the main source of energy, as electricity is rare and expensive for many.
The rampant deforestation is not unique to Somaliland. In southern Somalia, Al Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents turned charcoal burning and exportation into one of their major sources of income.
In a report, the UN monitoring group on Somalia and Eritrea says the Islamist group made up to 25 million dollars every year from charcoal trade.
Several regions of southern Somalia were declared famine zones by the United Nations last year, with the deforestation contributing to an extreme drought.
In a bid to put an end to rampant deforestation, Somalia’s newly elected President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in one of his first official duties banned all exportation of charcoal, in line with a UN embargo in February.
However, much more than a UN declaration and a presidential decree are needed to bring the deforestation to an end.
“The underlying causes of poverty and the general decline of the size of livestock herds have to be addressed,” says Awale.
Alternative sources of energy must be harnessed to cater for the population, massive reforestation campaigns need to be initiated and some of the pastoralists need to switch to agriculture.
In a country where the government faces numerous challenges, environmental matters are not a priority.
“The Ministry of Environment has the smallest budgetary allocation that only covers the salaries of 187 employees,” says Elmi.
“All the mature trees have disappeared.... In the past one could get six or seven 25 kg sacks of charcoal from a tree. Today, maybe one or two,” Awale says.
As a consequence, charcoal prices in Somaliland have doubled in the past four years, to 10 dollars a sack.
“Each time I cut down a tree, I am left with a bitter taste in my mouth,” Hussein says. “The future is bleak.... All the trees will have disappeared.”

What's happening around Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH: More than 5.5 million students on Sunday resumed school across the Kingdom after the Eid Al-Adha holiday.The Director of Educational Information in the General Education Directorate in Makkah, Abdulaziz Al-Thaqafi, said that the resumption of...
JEDDAH: Candidates in municipal council elections are holding meetings in a number of commercial centers to attract votes and gain the confidence of people.In these gatherings, they are talking about election culture, the importance of women’s partic...
JEDDAH: The Ministry of Haj recently warned foreign Umrah firms against involving the name of Saudi Arabia in the delays in completing Umrah procedures. The ministry also warned Umrah companies against extortion practices and pitting pilgrims against...
JEDDAH: Cases of dengue fever in Jeddah recently dropped with the city registering between three to five suspected cases, a local newspaper reported. The drop in the number of cases came following the many measures taken against the mosquito that cau...
JEDDAH: Health Minister Khalid Al-Falih has expressed his deepest condolences to the families of those who died in the Mina stampede and wished a speedy recovery to the injured.In a report on the Health Ministry’s activities leading up to, and during...
JAZAN: Residents of more than 16 villages in the Al-Hakimiyyah Center in the Mardhiah area have complained of air pollution owing to dumping of garbage in the locality by the Jazan municipality.Residents said garbage is being burned daily at the sit...
RIYADH: Although Riyadh Metro is primarily responsible for causing congestion on streets in the capital, a number of other work related to infrastructure have added to the discomfiture of citizens, who describe the situation as a "daily nightmare".Th...
JEDDAH: The Interior Ministry has arrested 83 people for allegedly supporting terrorist groups. The arrests took place last month, up to the first day of Eid Al-Adha, in locations across the country, a local publication reported the ministry as stati...
JEDDAH: The Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC) on Sunday launched a national loyalty program with the message ‘Loyalty to Homeland,’ with the participation of over 30,000 trainees and staff members at its 67 industrial institutes ac...
MADINAH: Turkish pilgrim Yorizek Anwar expressed his thanks to God for making his Haj rituals a success and enabling him to visit the Prophet’s mosque. He was also impressed by the services offered to pilgrims at the holy sites in the Kingdom. Anwar...
JEDDAH: Russia and Saudi Arabia plan to discuss bilateral cooperation during their Joint Commission meeting scheduled for the end of October, Russian Minister of Energy Alexander Novak said in a statement on Friday.Novak’s statement given to Russian...
RIYADH: The head of the external reviewer team for international academic accreditation, Robert Frederick, visited King Saud University (KSU) to assess the quality of the academic program at the university.The visit was made recently as a part of the...
RIYADH: The arrest of a Filipino woman in a raid on an illegal explosives factory in the capital has sent shockwaves among the community, even as the country’s envoy is waiting for details surrounding the case.Philippines Ambassador Ezzuddin Tago is...
RIYADH: Indian expatriates in Saudi Arabia are deeply anguished over growing violence against Muslims in India terming the latest Dadri incident on the outskirts of New Delhi as the height of barbarity amounting to “uncivilized behavior”. They have u...
JEDDAH: The Haj pilgrimage provides a rare opportunity to people from various nationalities and cultures to exchange thoughts and ideas, mainly pertaining to religion, but language remains a barrier. Professor Mouhammad Yahya said: “Translation is th...

Stay Connected