Somali environmental activists say massive country-wide deforestation is creating a huge environmental threat to livelihoods and is contributing to the repeated cycles of drought and famine experienced by the Horn of Africa nation.
Most environmental degradation has occurred in the country’s southern regions, where the civil war has had the most severe impact. But it has also been occurring at an alarming rate in more stable regions of Puntland.
“In Puntland, the deforestation is at the highest scale,” Mustafe Abdiaziz Yusuf coordinator of local environmental organizationSahansaho, told Radio Ergo’s local reporter in Galkayo.
“Charcoal is the primary threat leading to the deforestation,” Yusuf said. Mudug region, populated mainly by pastoralist communities, is experiencing the largest losses of forested areas, which is directly threatening the livelihoods of local residents.
Charcoal burning in Mudug over the past two decades has already turned forests, which were known for trees and rich pasture, Yusuf said.
Sahansaho is working to create public awareness on the long-term negative impact of cutting trees. There is a lucrative trade in charcoal between this region and the Middle East. Locally too, Somalis are using charcoal as a primary source of fuel.
Electricity is not widely available and is expensive. Many unemployed rural youth are involved in burning charcoal as their only source of income.
“Such high levels of deforestation not only threaten the planet, but also threaten the people’s day-today life directly,” said Said Farah Warsame, an environmental expert, who worked with Somalia’s Agency for Pasture and Grazing before the civil war.
Water and pasture land are becoming very scarce, he said, adding that such scarcity leads to hunger and poverty for people in rural areas.
“But the unspoken tragedy is the total disappearance of Somalia’s vast wildlife as urbanization increases,” said Warsame.
New villages and towns have been developed across Somalia without restriction over the past two decades of anarchy. Migration of people to urban areas from rural parts in search of a better life has increased.
“This has led to overcrowding and congestion in towns and the further destruction of larger areas of forest and pasture land,” said Warsame.
Both Mustafe Abdiaziz Yusuf and Said Farah Warsame called for tough regulations to safeguard the environment and severe penalties for those involved in illegal deforestation.
“But at the same time, there is a need for the creation of alternative jobs for young people,” said Warsame, recognizing that it would be difficult to break the charcoal syndicates without employment prospects.