Deforestation turning Somalia into desert

Updated 20 November 2012
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Deforestation turning Somalia into desert

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.”


Arabs ‘crazy’ about British royals

Updated 19 min 4 sec ago
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Arabs ‘crazy’ about British royals

  • Cafe Diana's owner Abdul Basset Daoud named his shop 30 years ago after the late Princess Diana 30, who lived across the road in Kensington Palace
  • People from the Middle East really respect the Queen and not just because she is old, says one Arab restaurant owner

LONDON:  The cakes are ready, the flowers are ordered and the drinks are on ice. At the Cafe Diana in London’s Notting Hill, all was in place for a celebration marking the birth of Britain’s newest royal, the baby boy born Monday  morning to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

“Of course, we’re having a party. We always do,” said manager Fouad Fattah.

The same was true a few kilometers away at the Fatoush restaurant, where manager Alaa William Chamas kept a watchful eye on the news headlines and a lookout for extra police traffic heading towards at St Mary’s Hospital, the venue for the royal birth. “We’re expecting a busy evening,”  he said. 

While an element of celebration might be expected at some British establishments,  Cafe Diana and Fatoush are Middle Eastern-owned and run. But they are embracing the latest royal event —  as well as the forthcoming wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle next month —  with all the enthusiasm of the most ardent monarchists.

“Are Arab people interested in the British royal family? Are you kidding? They are crazy about them!” said Lebanese-born Fattah, 55, who throws a party for his customers on every notable royal occasion.

 

Royal neighbor 

Cafe Diana forged a very real link with the royal family 30 years ago,  when the owner, Abdul Basset Daoud, decided to name his cafe after his royal neighbor, the late Princess Diana, who lived across the road in Kensington Palace.

He put up the sign at around Christmas time in 1988 and to his amazement, she came in two weeks later. She had seen it as she drove out with her bodyguard and it had made her smile, she told him, so she decided to drop in for a coffee.

It was not her only visit. She came again a couple of weeks later and Basset Daoud asked her if he out up a photograph of her. She returned the next day with a black and white studio. Then she began dropping in regularly, sometimes alone and often with her sons for a full English breakfast.

“The boys loved it. We are not a five-star restaurant. This is just an ordinary  neighborhood coffee shop. She wanted the princes  to experience things like normal kids,” said Fatah. 

“She didn’t mind queuing like any other customer. She usually sat with her back to the room. The other customers did not realise who she was until she stood up and they got a real shock.” 

And that, he insists, is why Arabs love the British royals.

“It’s because we can see them. They are not far away from the people. When the Queen goes out, there are just two cars with her, not 200. If the Queen goes past and you wave at her,  she waves back. You can shout out to the royals and they just smile.”

The walls of the cafe are now covered in  photographs of the princess, both formal portraits and informal snaps with the staff, and letters thanking them for sending her flowers for her birthday. The last is dated July 1, 1997, just two months before she died.

“Everyone who comes here wants to talk about the royal family,” said Fattah. “There was a lady from Kuwait who came in recently and she was crying her eyes out. I gave her a cup of tea and asked what was wrong. She said, ‘I loved Diana so much’.”

 

Arab love

It is much the same at Fatoush, a popular Lebanese restaurant on Edgeware Road, in the heart of what has been dubbed “Arab Street.”

Chatting over coffee, manager Alaa William (“Yes, that really is my name”) Chamas was adamant. 

“Arab people LOVE the British royal family. If they are living here, they really care about them. If they are visiting, they just want to talk about how they visited Buckingham Palace,” he said.

“I’m not interested!” boomed an unseen voice from the kitchen. “Be quiet!”  Chamas boomed back. Having admonished his wayward employee, Chamas returned to his theme.

“When there is a wedding in the royal family, the public are invited to share it. Now there is a new baby and they share this with the people.

“People from the Middle East really respect the Queen and not just because she is old. Some other rulers are also old but nobody thinks much about them. In some places, the people fear their rulers. Here they see that the Queen is loved.”

At the nearby Simit Sarayi cafe, manager Mukhtar Mohamed agreed. “It’s because the British royal family seem so accessible. You can visit Buckingham Palace — actually look round where they live! Arab visitors who have been coming to London for years follow all the news about the royals and they buy every souvenir they can get their hands on. If it’s got a picture of the Queen or Diana or William and Kate  on it, they want it. With Prince Harry getting married in a few weeks, they are buying like crazy.”

Back at Cafe Diana, Fattah is recalling a poignant visit by Harry a few years after the death of his mother.

“He must have been about 16 or 17. He was with his uncle, Prince Andrew, and he had just been to the barber next door to get his hair cut. On the way back to the car, he put his head round the door of the cafe and said, ‘Hi.’ Then he looked at all the photos and smiled and left.”

In four weeks’ time, Prince Harry is getting married. Cue for another party? “Absolutely!”