By Dahir Warsame and Ismail Gamadid, Co-Founders, Somali Wildlife Conservation Network - June 06, 2010

Today, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) calls it the world environment day. The idea is to recognize the importance of clean environment, and the role of all of us to achieve this noble global mission.

Of course, Somalia’s environmental challenges are overshadowed by the wars and political instability that exist today. However, the work to create a clean environment for the current and future generations has it own importance. A recent meeting of world leaders in Geneva, UNEP leadership identified control of international movement of hazardous material and their disposal as the pressing issues for the world agency.

Ms Katherina Kummer Peiry, the Executive Secretary of the Basel Convention, a convention for the control of transboundary movement of hazardous material and their disposal, said “The international community is signalling its support for increased efforts to promote the environmentally sound management of waste during a time of transition with new waste streams, new technological developments and ways in which waste moves around the world,".  This is significant progress towards finding solutions to one of today’s major environmental concerns for developing countries such as Somalia. As we all know that there is general consensus that the dumping of industrial waste into the waters of Somalia, and during the 2004 tsunami disaster, many remnants of the dumps came ashore at some beaches of Somalia, including the capital.
Obviously, Somali leaders and intellectuals need to work with world bodies such as UNEP, in order to bring the goals of UNEP into reality and mitigate the environmental problems that come from global movement of hazardous waste and their disposal. These kinds of environmental disasters and abuse need global cooperation, in order to bring the inappropriate hazardous waste disposal to an end. Evidently, Somalia’s environmental problems do share the many challenges that the developing world faces, but our challenges have some unique ones, including lack of policies, effective national and regional environmental agencies and ground work.

Apart from the new phenomenon that came with the global commerce, we also have the traditional challenges of desertification, lack of urban waste treatment systems, and other problems that come as result of some of the above mentioned problems, such as destruction of wildlife habitat and the extinction of some unique ecosystems. In addition, many environmental experts warned that with current rate of consumption of our natural resources for energy, building and other uses on one hand, and without enacting measures that slow the rate of utilization, on the other hand, or better yet establish a way of replenishing the resources and making the utilization sustainable. Eventually, Somalia might end up creating a fast lands that are barren and inhabitable.

Apparently, Somalia needs to bring the environmental challenges under control, by adopting new alternative sources of energy that are environmentally friendly and affordable. Although, Somali people’s spirit of entrepreneurship might save the day, when the eventual fate comes where the natural resource become meagre and not enough to support the population, but then many of us have their own doubts, when there are many distractions that will disrupt any development for Somalis to bring solutions to their own problems, including the never ending civil war, famine and other social and economic problems.

The World Environment Day also occurs the same day that Somalia also celebrates as Somali Wildlife Day, this was first enacted on 06/05/1989, in order to bring the wildlife conservation issues into the forefront of the nation’s development agenda. As some of you might know, early part of the 19th century, Somalia was known, as many other African countries in the region, as a place where elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamus, giraffes, and many other big mammals roamed freely, not to mention the various pristine and naturally beautiful savannahs and mountains. Unfortunately, this picture is now changed into one where the remaining wildlife and important ecosystems are under constant pressures from overgrazing, charcoal production and cutting trees for construction, not to mention the illegal killing of large mammals for commercial purposes, these practices decimated the population of elephants, rhinos and many other wildlife that are either threatened or extinct from the wilderness of Somalia.

The solution for the above mentioned calamities will only come, if the leaders, intellectuals and the public face the realities and work on reversing those alarming trends, in order to save Somalia’s natural resources for perpetual use. Some of the solutions for preserving the natural resources are to create national and game parks, one as a refugee and the other as a sustainable utilization structure, respectively. Today,natural resource utilization is advanced and parallel to traditional farming in many parts of the world, this was done in order to satisfy the needs of those who use the resources for either as subsistence or commercial. For instance, one would see products such as crocodile skins, ostrich eggs, and many other wildlife products in the international markets.

As a matter of fact, there was a recent meeting at the London Zoological Society, where international conservation and development experts were looking into how biodiversity can contribute to the development of rural communities. Around the world, protected areas are now seen as areas that are in conflict to development, the conference attendees agreed that conservation now needs to go beyond minimizing the conflict of biodiversity conservation and development. They also added that conservation should address the conflict in a way that encompasses poverty reduction goals into the conservation goals.  Daudi Sumba, the African Wildlife Foundation Regional Director for East Africa, summed it up this way “Where biodiversity and wildlife can demonstrate clear value and contribution to the national growth and poverty reduction strategies, this contributes to a favorable local, national and regional environment for conservation”.

Historically, United States of America was the first country that established a national park in 1872, namely the Yellowstone National Park. At the time, America faced and still faces many challenges that threatened the existing of its natural resources, but despite these challenges, the park still protects many fragile ecosystems and wildlife, for the benefit of every American. This kind of example repeats itself throughout the USA and many other countries. In fact, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) compiled about 30,000 protected areas throughout the world, these are all meant to protect the natural resources for sustainable utilization.

Therefore, the significance of this day is too important for it to pass without being acknowledged. However, highlighting the challenges of Somalia’s environment and natural resources will only be important, if we all took action in order to bring our environmental and natural resources under conscious and sustainable management.

Dahir Warsame Wildlife Ecologist
Ismail Gamadid Forestry Scientist