Though it is already common knowledge that most of our on-going conflicts have environmental causes, is the scourge of piracy in the Gulf of Aden have their roots in environmental degradation?
By: Ringo Bones
Ever since it became fashionable – or just right – to award worthy eco-activists the Nobel Peace Prize, the world-at-large has now become more aware the strong link between most of our on-going military conflicts and of environmental degradation. Even though at present eco-activists like the 2004 Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai and 2007 Nobel Peace laureate Al Gore are too busy to point out the environmental roots of the on-going scourge of piracy in the waters of the Gulf of Aden. The question now is, is the on-going scourge of piracy in the Gulf of Aden can be traced to environmental degradation?
Even though it was the dramatic rescue of the Maersk Alabama skipper Capt. Richard Phillips by the US Navy SEAL team that grabbed the headlines. The lesser-known environmental scourge off the coast of Somalia – namely the illegally dumped hazardous toxic chemical and radioactive wastes – has been largely ignored for more than a decade.
During the past few years, proof have started to emerge that points out that the waters of the Gulf of Aden had been used as an illegal toxic hazardous waste dump. The United Nations envoy for Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah said that there is “reliable information” that European and Asian companies are dumping toxic wastes, including nuclear wastes, off the Somali coastline for over 20 years. Which could explain why a majority of the Somali pirates are former fisherman who can no longer eke out a living from their ancestral fishing grounds due to the environmental devastation caused by the illegal dumping of these hazardous toxic chemical and radioactive wastes.
It was primarily the tsunami of December 26, 2004 that literally dumped the evidence of such illegally dumped toxic and radioactive wastes on the beaches of northern Somalia. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) reported that that the tsunami had washed up rusting containers of illegally dumped toxic wastes in the shores of Puntland.
UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall states that when the barrels were smashed open by the force of the waves, the containers exposed a “frightening activity” that has been going on for more than a decade. The bad news is that the UNEP cannot simply send scientists to collect evidence and various data of the illegally dumped hazardous wastes on the shores of Puntland in Somalia so that it can be fully vetted and peer approved. Because of the on-going conflict there poses a clear and present danger, which the scientists could be, kidnapped and held for ransom by lawless elements. Worse still, given the UN-style bureaucracy, the peer approval and vetting process of the data proving the existence of the illegally dumped hazardous toxic wastes and radioactive wastes in the Gulf of Aden could take a long while.
Even though there has already been talks in the UN to bolster the effectiveness and legitimacy of the Somali government in order to effectively tackle the scourge of piracy. In the long-term solution would be to tackle the issue of environmental degradation – which is the root cause of the scourge of piracy in this region – should be addressed. And given that the commercial shipping traffic can – and would eventually – just find an alternative route whenever the insurance premiums exceed the fuel expenditure and length of travel time, the environmental problems faced by Somalis could easily be swept under the rug.