Mogadishu: white sand, blue waters, piles of waste heaping

Before the civil war in Somalia, the capital’s shores were renowned for its large beaches, cool bristles and pure blue ocean waters. Actually, all these attractions still exist today. It is only in many places that they are spoiled by ever-expanding piles of trash. Mogadishu is a town of approximately 2 million people producing an estimated 2,500 metric tons of waste per day. Yet it did not have a single designated waste disposal site or recycling plant until very recently. Instead, people dumped and mainly dumped their trash into the streets, beaches or the ocean. Photos taken by the VOA Somali Service program Investigative Dossier illustrate the extent of this problem. One image captures a market worker dumping into the water a wheelbarrow full of discarded fish scraps. Others show huge mounds of cans, bottles, plastic bags, boxes, food waste, scrap metal and other trash strewn across the beaches, with goats and the occasional scavenger picking through the remains. Most ominous of all: smoke photos taken from the brownish gray piles when they bake in the equatorial heat of Somalia. Winds push smoke and a foul smell through the city, burning eyes and noses and endangering the health of the people of Mogadishu and the environment. In order to tackle this problem, the Somali Government officially announced the allocation of two waste disposal sites in late December. One site is in the northern Huriwa district of Mogadishu, the other in the Wadajir district in the southern suburbs of the city. But observers say there is a need for more action. There are currently no laws that ban trash dumping in the capital, and the issue is barely on the radar of police and city officials, whose first priority is maintaining safety in a city where al-Shabab militants launch frequent terrorist attacks. “The government has to have a policy, an environmental policy; we need legislation on waste management; lack of legislation is the reason we have rubbish everywhere,” says Hassan Nur, an environmental expert, and lecturer at Mogadishu’s Banadir University. “What causes somebody in town to dump rubbish? It’s because he’s afraid of no law. Waste management cannot work without legislation.” Trash ‘deforms’ the cities Parts of the beaches remain garbage-free, and Somalis congregate there to enjoy the breeze and play in the warm water. Videos of the sun-splashed scene are a reminder why Mogadishu, before years of civil war, neglect and the militant insurgency left much of the city in ruins, was known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. One of the most popular sites, for both beach-goers and trash dumpers, is Jazeera Beach. Mohamed Yahye is a Somali journalist who says he has seen all kinds of waste products abandoned there. “I saw a tanker bring sewage waste and unload it onto the beach,” he says. Nur says rampant waste dumping can lead to higher rates of cancer, typhoid, hepatitis B and C, diarrhea and cholera. But, “it’s not just health problems, it also impacts on the environment –the air, the land,” he says. “It deforms the appearance of the cities… When you fly on a plane over Somali towns, you see trees being covered by plastic bags. These bags kill trees because they deny air. They are also a health hazard to the animals, who die when they eat [the bags].” Omar Abdullahi Hassan, the commissioner of the Wadajir district, which includes Jazeera beach, says it’s now illegal to dump trash at Jazeera, and he hopes the new disposal sites will be in use soon. “Beaches are the most beautiful parts of this country. It’s inappropriate to use them as dump sites,” he told VOA. “We have been working to get centers for management in recent weeks. Luckily, we found a large area [for waste disposal].” That may come as welcome news to Mohamud Yusuf Hassan, the head of the Environmental Cleaning Company, or ECCO. ECCO is one of three companies named by police as dumping trash on the beaches, although no arrests have been made. Hassan said his company, which employs 326 people, is heeding the warning from police. “We don’t dump into the sea now,” he says. But he says the company has trouble finding places to dispose of trash or conduct recycling. “There is no place to manage it,” he says. “Where do people take the rubbish to?” He too says the legislation is key in going forward. “Without legislation, there is nothing can be done,” he said. “There is someone carrying trash in his motorcycle or in a truck and there is nothing we can do if they dump it in the street, because there is no law prohibiting it. We can’t force him not to do it, all we can say is don’t do it.” Harun Maruf Hassan VOA