SABAHI | Friday, December 07, 2012 | By Barkhad Dahir | After years of continued deforestation in Somaliland due to charcoal production, officials and environmentalists say they are worried that parts of northern Somalia could turn into desert-like wastelands.
The practice of cutting and burning trees has significantly increased in the past seven years, and could eventually create an uninhabitable environment, according to Ibrahim Ali Hussein, acting director of the Flora and Fauna Department at the Ministry of Environment and Rural Development.
“When deforestation occurs in an area, erosion resulting from floods and wind removes the fertile topsoil and water flows directly over it making it unsuitable for pasture growth,” Hussein told Sabahi. “This results in complete desertification, whereby animals have nothing to eat and it cannot support human life.”
Many people cut down trees to turn them into charcoal for lack of better economic opportunities, said Muhiyadin Omer Jama, an environmental officer at Hargeisa-based non-profit organisation Candlelight for Health, Education and Environment. “When the drought killed off their livestock, and without another vocation, they resorted to cutting trees to earn their livelihood,” he told Sabahi.
About 95% of charcoal producers are between the ages of 17 and 30, and they cut trees to make money and compensate for the loss of their livestock, according to a joint study conducted in 2004 by the Somaliland Ministry of Environment and Candlelight.
But up to half of the income generated by charcoal producers goes to qat consumption, while less than 30% goes to household needs, according to the study, which examined the impact of charcoal production on the environment and the economic patterns of rural Somaliland.
Of the charcoal brought to Hargeisa and Berbera, 65% comes from cutting down live trees. The trees are mainly burned in the Salahley, Adadley and Sabowanaag districts located to the south and southeast of the Hargeisa in the Marodi Jeh regions, the southern Sheikh district in the Sahil region, and western Odweyne district in the Togdheer region, the study found.
Exporting charcoal is uncommon in Somaliland, but areas in the eastern regions use the Puntland-administered port of Bosaso for export, Hussein said. “The exported charcoal is taken to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, but we fight hard against its exportation,” he said.
Eight to 10 trucks carrying up to 1,600 sacks of charcoal enter Hargeisa daily, said Ministry of Environment and Rural Developments Marodi Jeh regional co-ordinator Jama Hussein Muhumed.
When loggers ran out of dry, dead trees a few years ago, they began cutting live trees, he said. Nonetheless, domestic production has not been sufficient and charcoal is now being imported from neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia to meet market demand, he added.
The cost of charcoal is rising too. In January 2012, one sack of charcoal cost 35,000 Somaliland shillings ($5.50), but now costs 60,000 shillings ($9.30), according Sulekha Yusuf, a trader who has been selling charcoal for ten years at the Wahen Market in Hargeisa.
Solving the environmental problem
Due to economic constraints, the Somaliland administration does not have the capacity to immediately halt environmentally harmful actions, Hussein said. Instead, the government is considering economic support plans and technology for coal mining.
Jama, however, said he believes such a plan is impossible at this time, and it is necessary to find other viable solutions. “It is important to hold awareness campaigns to educate people on the problems that result from cutting trees,” he said.
Other solutions might be to cultivate other employment skills for charcoal producers, create alternative income streams and purchase livestock for them, he said.
Next month, Candlelight plans to distribute 500 charcoal-conserving stoves in the Togdheer region as part of its environmental preservation efforts, Jama said.
The Ministry of Environment and Rural Development also plans to address this matter in 2013, with programmes such as using sandbags to halt water runoff so pastures can recover and grow, Hussein said.
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