FILE - Somali porters offload charcoal from a truck at a charcoal market in Mogadishu, Oct. 30, 2012.
FILE - Somali porters offload charcoal from a truck at a charcoal market in Mogadishu, Oct. 30, 2012.

MOGADISHU - Environmentalists are warning that the demand for charcoal in Somalia is fueling desertification and drought. 

The U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, known as UNCCD, says an estimated 8.2 million trees were cut down for charcoal in Somalia between 2011 and 2017, increasing land degradation, food insecurity, and vulnerability to flooding and drought.

Dr. Abdullahi Emi Mohamed, an expert on the environment, water and climate change, said several parts of the country are experiencing climate-related shocks because of the unprecedented deforestation rate in the past three decades.

"In many parts of the Hiran and Middle Shabelle region, that is the places we have seen major flooding because of the low capacity of the river channel to carry a large amount of water, and that has clear co-relations with the number of trees," he said. "Because when the tree is cut, it will be easy for the soil to erode, which ends up into the river. So all these connections can be explained — that the people have cut down the large number of trees that could have sustained the life of the rural people and their animals."

U.N. Security Council Resolution 2036, adopted in 2012, banned the export of charcoal from Somalia.

Although significant amounts of the charcoal still find their way to the gulf states, the relative peace and stability experienced in Somalia and lifestyle changes are forcing some families — mainly diaspora returnees — to abandon the use of charcoal and firewood.

"Previously, people used to use a lot of charcoal in the city, but as time has passed, people have resorted to using gas because the security has improved," said gas user Ikram Farah. "And then there is the availability of cooking gas everywhere in towns, so it is much easier to use the gas than the charcoal, because the gas is faster and there is no smoke. And it is safe for the environment, and no more trees are cut."

UNCCD said countries across the globe are expected to recover 1 billion hectares of land by 2030. The U.N. program's executive secretary, Ibrahim Thiaw, said his organization helps promote sustainable land management to protect the climate from overuse of land that results in drought.

A spokesperson for Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Moalimu reiterated that cutting down trees for commercial purposes in the country is illegal and urged citizens to preserve the remaining forest cover.