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UN: Nuclear Waste Being Released on Somalia's Shores After Tsunami

A United Nations' report released this week says nuclear and hazardous wastes dumped on Somalia's shores had been scattered by the recent Asian tsunami and are now infecting Somalis in coastal areas.

A spokesman for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Nick Nuttall, told VOA that for the past 15 years or so, European companies and others have used Somalia as a dumping ground for a wide array of nuclear and hazardous wastes.

"There's uranium radioactive waste, there's leads, there's heavy metals like cadmium and mercury, there's industrial wastes, and there's hospital wastes, chemical wastes, you name it,” he said. “It's not rocket science to know why they're doing it because of the instability there."

Mr. Nuttall said, on average, it cost European companies $2.50 per ton to dump the wastes on Somalia's beaches rather than $250 a ton to dispose of the wastes in Europe.

He said the Asian tsunami dislodged and smashed open the drums, barrels, and other containers, spreading the contaminants as far away as 10 or more kilometers inland.

Mr. Nuttall said it is impossible to know the exact tonnage or number of containers of wastes on Somalia's shores, but that the problem, in his words, "is very serious."

The results of the contamination on coastal populations, Mr. Nuttall says, have been disastrous.

"These problems range from acute respiratory infections to dry, heavy coughing, mouth bleedings, abdominal hemorrhages, what they described as unusual skin chemical reactions,” he noted. “So there's a whole variety of ailments that people are reporting from these villages where we had a chance to look. We need to go much further and farther in finding out the real scale of this problem."

The tsunami's effects on Somalia were detailed in a report the United Nations Environment Program released this week at its governing council meeting in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

The report described the effects of the late-December tsunami, which killed up to 300,000 people in 11 countries. It says the massive waves dislodged hazardous materials in countries throughout the region and recommended that governments preserve natural resources and restrict or ban development in vulnerable areas.

According to the report, hazardous wastes in Somalia have also contaminated some groundwater areas there.

The dumping of hazardous and nuclear wastes onto Somalia's coastline is a long-running concern. In a media report last year, Somali fisherman said they saw foreign vessels dropping containers onto the beach and pollution into the waters.

Somali officials said the country was vulnerable to illegal dumping, as Africa's longest coastline is not patrolled and the country has no coast guards, or health officials and facilities to test whatever is inside the containers.

Until late last year, Somalia had been without an effective central government since 1991, when then-leader Siad Barre was ousted. The new transitional government is in the process of moving to the capital Mogadishu from its current base in Kenya.