Somaliland: Government Reacts to Alarming Threat of Deforestation and Desertification

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Burning wet and young trees for charcoal is now illegalBy: Yusuf M Hasan

HARGEISA (Somalilandsun) – Large parts of the country could turn into desert within decades, as many turn to chopping trees as the last remaining resource, revealed by the minister of Environment and Rural Development Mr Mahmud Saeed Mohamed ‘Ga’ameye’ as he banned the cutting of wet trees for purpose of charcoal burning in the country.

“My Ministry has been forced to take this action due to Threats of Deforestation and Desertification occasioned by massive cutting down of wet trees in all parts of the country thus produce charcoal for commercial purposes”

While numerous bans on the cutting of wet and young trees have been imposed in the past without much effect the ministry of environment is determined to see that current trends are reversed drastically thus its pact with the police force for arrest ond subsequent prosecution of those found contravening the ban.

Charcoal burning has not always been preferred in Somaliland. A few years back 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 urbanisation and a population explosion that are the biggest threats to the country’s environmental well-being. Somaliland’s capital Hargeisa has a population of 850,000 people, six times its population in the 1970s, which consumes approximately 250 tonnes of charcoal daily.

According to Ahmed Derie Elmi, director of forests in the ministry of environment, “Twenty percent of the forest has disappeared in the last ten years—definitely this country is turning into a desert,”. “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 organisation, which tackles environmental and health issues in Somaliland.

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 kilogramme 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.”

Additional material from Massive deforestation risks turning Somalia into desert

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