Cutting Down Trees for Charcoal Spells Doom for Somalia


by Mohamud A. Dubet |

Cutting the branch on which you are sitting on in a tree can be suicidal. When it breaks, hastened by the sheer weight of your body, the least harm such careless action can inflict, is a broken spinal cord. The result is suffering paralysis and being unable to coordinate limps. Apart from being bed-ridden for life, you begin depending on others for the basics of life. Otherwise, you die from trauma to the head, losing life in excruciating pain.

This is exactly what we Somalis are doing to the environment that we depend on for survival on planet earth. Shockingly, the rate at which trees are being cut down for charcoal continues to rise without any form of reforestation taking place in equal measure.

Thousands of people who lost their livestock to drought and the prevailing negative climatic patterns have turned to charcoal burning as a means of survival. On the other hand, a combination of greenhouse gas emissions from powerful industrialized nations and the ravages of the continuous war in the Horn of Africa are a few factors that could be blamed for bringing the economy of the region to its knees.

The proceeds from this destructive business venture feed many young hungry Somali mouths. It even keeps some away from turning to banditry, kidnapping, piracy, and from applying violent means to rob fellow citizens. In a nutshell, it is a blatant destruction at the expense of our beautiful country's formerly virgin flora and fauna.

From Ras Aseyr located on the northern tip of Somalia to Ras Kiamboni at the southern periphery, chopping down trees of all kinds, heights, and sizes is a common practice. The trail of destruction left behind by marauding charcoal cutters can be seen with ease regardless of whether one is travelling by land or by air. The conditions of our forests are so dire that, lands that have been lush green at one time have been reduced to tree stumps and desiccated mulch that consequently turn a peaceful journey into a nightmare.

Burnt-out soil that once served as the kilns used by environmental robbers for roasting lash green branches and active tree trunks can be found strewn everywhere.

Anyone attempting to travel the breadth and width of our once beautiful landscape that has been denuded of vital nutrients is greeted by the magnitude of the destruction wrought on our forests by callous humans who are devoid of ecological knowledge and environmental protection. Indeed, the sight of hundreds of trucks carrying this precious commodity is a regular feature on Somali roads. Smoke billowing from charcoal burning sites can be sighted from a distance of tens of kilometers in our hinterland.

The market for the ruination of the environment is both local and foreign. On the home front, hundreds of Somali charcoal dealers, middlemen, tree cutters and burners, truck drivers, and loaders make a large army of Somali environment destroyers. They are augmented by hundreds of charcoal market investors and speculators. These people are united in turning the land into ash and dust. They are endeared by the paltry gains they make from such short environmental exploitations.

However, the land can withstand their impact if they are allowed to generate charcoal purely for well regulated national consumption. Nevertheless, emphasis on countrywide tree replanting campaigns and public education on the urgency to preserve the environment as they harvest wood for domestic use is not there as Somalia continues to descend into unrelenting cycle of violence.

The Desertification of SOMALIA

The danger starts when cinder is exported to foreign markets populated by consumers wielding considerable economic clout and voracious urge for fuel consumption. The culprit in this case is the Middle East. It is no a secret that several makeshift sea ports have sprung up mainly in the anarchic south of Somalia for use by ships and boats carrying this merchandise to markets in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Yemen, and as far as Iran where Somali charcoal is highly valued. These ocean gateways are mostly in the hands of reckless Islamist rebels who depend on them for much of their revenue to sustain their war against the fledgling Somali government. They do not care about the devastating environmental effects this is creating or whether we risk total annihilation and desertification. They are people consumed by dogmatic religious ideology with little understanding of the life cycle in the workings of nature.

Cutting down a tall savanna tree takes about 15 to 20 minutes but it takes approximately 20 years for to grow to the same height. Given the scale at which plants are being sawed for money, we will have no more left in the near future even if we plant a tree for every fallen one. The unscrupulous charcoal traders understand this but want to exploit the void left by the lack of reliable authority-governmental or environmental-that can ban this disaster in the making. Therefore, ordinary Somalis need to devise a mechanism to deter those bent on destroying their land if they are to survive the vagaries of the 21st century.

Forget about the millions of Somalis who perished in the tribal fighting since the 1980s for surely, something more perilous is in the making given the current rate of devastation of our land is going through. This is a disaster of the greatest magnitude that can render the Somali race extinct if not averted with all our strength, resources, and options at our disposal. We have to embark on the immediate need to preserve the environment or else risk suffering an irreparable natural calamity. This requires concerted efforts and dedication from across the societal spectrum.

To mitigate this disaster and deter organized gangs of charcoal producers from continuing with their spate of destructions, the Somali government is compelled to create a powerful environmental conservation authority that has the willpower and dedication to apprehend, prosecute, and imprison lackadaisical and cantankerous criminals driven by theocratic ideological foundations. Anyone apprehended while deliberately destroying Somalia’s forests without any credible justifications must be made to face the full force of the law.

It is ecologically disastrous and Islamically forbidden to destroy humankind’s God-given natural forests. The entity who will be responsible for promoting and protecting Somalia’s natural beauty will have to be provided with a well-trained and well-equipped army of loyal citizens having at their disposal state-of-the-art communication equipments so they can perform assigned tasks efficiently and effectively at all times.

Charcoal exporters should be branded criminals worse than murderers and punished with the full force of the law. They should be dealt with as environmental criminals determined to sabotage the very existence of our society. Special laws should be passed urgently to signal an end to the extirpation of our countryside. The point that it will not be business as usual should be driven home as a matter of urgency.

Further, a green movement with the mandate to teach the population about the dangers of desertification should be created. Environmental sermons should be held in mosques across the Somali territories, terming this illicit trade as sinful and evil. Comprehensive environmental conservation should be incorporated into the school curriculum to plant the seeds of responsible utilization of trees and maintaining healthy environmental knowledge in the minds of our young. The media, both print and electronic, should dedicate regular slots for environmental conservation programs and documentaries to educate the public on the need to preserve what they rely on for survival.

The Somali government should court environmental conservation organizations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Organization for International Rivers (OIR) for funding, capacity building, and skills training for their environmental conservation personnel. This measure will relay the Somali environmental conservation message to international partners who have interest in the impact of global warming and natural calamities in third world countries such as ours.

We have to present our case at international climate change conferences and participate in the Kyoto Protocol agreements. We have to attract global attention to the plight of our pastoral communities who have been made poor by Carbon Dioxide pollution that is the major cause of the destruction of our vast and boundless ozone layer while at the same time emphasizing the role played by major industrial powers. This may seem an impossible undertaking to some readers, though without an iota of doubt, we can make the world hear our case if we are devoted and dedicated to it.

In the event that we allow the free-for-all destruction of Somali habitat to persist, our society will be cutting the portion on which we sit on in the global tree along with the branches that connect the diverse human race that call planet earth home. When that happens and we suddenly fall off the tree to be pulled by the force of gravity, then we will have to pay a heavy price from which we may not recover. As gloomy and calamitous this rehearsal may sound, it will certainly culminate in the obsolescence of the Somali speaking people in the Horn of Africa. This is a scary scenario to imagine, especially, when it can be revised at its infancy with simple, practical and proven steps.

The writer, Mohamud A. Dubet, is a Somali citizen who is passionate about environmental issues and can be reached at :

Author |Mohamud A. Dubet |E-Mail:

Contact:   © 2006 Qaranka