Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Somali piracy and toxic waste

Toxic waste' behind Somali piracy

By Najad Abdullahi

Somali pirates have accused European firms of dumping toxic waste off the Somali coast and are demanding an $8m ransom for the return of a Ukranian ship they captured, saying the money will go towards cleaning up the waste.

The ransom demand is a means of "reacting to the toxic waste that has been continually dumped on the shores of our country for nearly 20 years", Januna Ali Jama, a spokesman for the pirates, based in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, said.

"The Somali coastline has been destroyed, and we believe this money is nothing compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas."

The pirates are holding the MV Faina, a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks and military hardware, off Somalia's northern coast. According to the International Maritime Bureau, 61 attacks by pirates have been reported since the start of the year. While money is the primary objective of the hijackings, claims of the continued environmental destruction off Somalia's coast have been largely ignored by the regions's maritime authorities.

Dumping allegations

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy for Somalia confirmed to Al Jazeera the world body has "reliable information" that European and Asian companies are dumping toxic waste, including nuclear waste, off the Somali coastline. "I must stress however, that no government has endorsed this act, and that private companies and individuals acting alone are responsible," he said

The pirates are holding the MV Faina off Somalia's northern coast [Reuters] Allegations of the dumping of toxic waste, as well as illegal fishing, have circulated since the early 1990s. But evidence of such practices literally appeared on the beaches of northern Somalia when the tsunami of 2004 hit the country.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) reported the tsunami had washed up rusting containers of toxic waste on the shores of Puntland. Nick Nuttall, a UNEP spokesman, told Al Jazeera 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 decade. "Somalia has been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste starting in the early 1990s, and continuing through the civil war there," he said.

"European companies found it to be very cheap to get rid of the waste, costing as little as $2.50 a tonne, where waste disposal costs in Europe are something like $1000 a tonne. "And the waste is many different kinds. There is uranium radioactive waste. There is lead, and heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. There is also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes ­ you name it."

Nuttall also said that since the containers came ashore, hundreds of residents have fallen ill, suffering from mouth and abdominal bleeding, skin infections and other ailments. "We [the UNEP] had planned to do a proper, in-depth scientific assessment on the magnitude of the problem. But because of the high levels of insecurity onshore and off the Somali coast, we are unable to carry out an accurate assessment of the extent of the problem," he said.

However, Ould-Abdallah claims the practice still continues. "What is most alarming here is that nuclear waste is being dumped. Radioactive uranium waste that is potentially killing Somalis and completely destroying the ocean," he said.

Toxic waste

Ould-Abdallah declined to name which companies are involved in waste dumping, citing legal reasons.

But he did say the practice helps fuel the 18-year-old civil war in Somalia as companies are paying Somali government ministers to dump their waste, or to secure licences and contracts.

"There is no government control ... and there are few people with high moral ground ... [and] yes, people in high positions are being paid off, but because of the fragility of the TFG [Transitional Federal Government], some of these companies now no longer ask the authorities ­ they simply dump their waste and leave."

Ould-Abdallah said there are ethical questions to be considered because the companies are negotiating contracts with a government that is largely divided along tribal lines.

"How can you negotiate these dealings with a country at war and with a government struggling to remain relevant?"

In 1992, a contract to secure the dumping of toxic waste was made by Swiss and Italian shipping firms Achair Partners and Progresso, with Nur Elmi Osman, a former official appointed to the government of Ali Mahdi Mohamed, one of many militia leaders involved in the ousting of Mohamed Siad Barre, Somalia's former president.

At the request of the Swiss and Italian governments, UNEP investigated the matter.

Both firms had denied entering into any agreement with militia leaders at the beginning of the Somali civil war.

Osman also denied signing any contract.

'Mafia involvement'

However, Mustafa Tolba, the former UNEP executive director, told Al Jazeera that he discovered the firms were set up as fictitious companies by larger industrial firms to dispose of hazardous waste.

"At the time, it felt like we were dealing with the Mafia, or some sort of organised crime group, possibly working with these industrial firms," he said.

Nations have found it difficult to tackle the problem of piracy [AFP] "It was very shady, and quite underground, and I would agree with Ould-Abdallah¹s claims that it is still going on... Unfortunately the war has not allowed environmental groups to investigate this fully."

The Italian mafia controls an estimated 30 per cent of Italy's waste disposal companies, including those that deal with toxic waste.

In 1998, Famiglia Cristiana, an Italian weekly magazine, claimed that although most of the waste-dumping took place after the start of the civil war in 1991, the activity actually began as early as 1989 under the Barre government.

Beyond the ethical question of trying to secure a hazardous waste agreement in an unstable country like Somalia, the alleged attempt by Swiss and Italian firms to dump waste in Somalia would violate international treaties to which both countries are signatories.

Legal ramifications

Switzerland and Italy signed and ratified the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, which came into force in 1992.

EU member states, as well as 168 other countries have also signed the agreement.

The convention prohibits waste trade between countries that have signed the convention, as well as countries that have not signed the accord unless a bilateral agreement had been negotiated.

It is also prohibits the shipping of hazardous waste to a war zone. Abdi Ismail Samatar, professor of Geography at the University of Minnesota, told Al Jazeera that because an international coalition of warships has been deployed to the Gulf of Aden, the alleged dumping of waste must have been observed.

Environmental damage

"If these acts are continuing, then surely they must have been seen by someone involved in maritime operations," he said. "Is the cargo aimed at a certain destination more important than monitoring illegal activities in the region? Piracy is not the only problem for Somalia, and I think it's irresponsible on the part of the authorities to overlook this issue."

Mohammed Gure, chairman of the Somalia Concern Group, said that the social and environmental consequences will be felt for decades.

"The Somali coastline used to sustain hundreds of thousands of people, as a source of food and livelihoods. Now much of it is almost destroyed, primarily at the hands of these so-called ministers that have sold their nation to fill their own pockets."

Ould-Abdallah said piracy will not prevent waste dumping. "The intentions of these pirates are not concerned with protecting their environment," he said. "What is ultimately needed is a functioning, effective government that will get its act together and take control of its affairs."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Orthodox primates speak on human divisions and the environment

The primates of the Orthodox Churches, meeting from 10-12 October at the Phanar, Istanbul, have issued a message to all Orthodox Christians throughout the world, urging them, among other things, to play a part in healing human divisions and caring for creation.

Russian Orthodox Church (Brussels Representation) - Eglise Orthodoxe Russe (Repr�sentation �Bruxelles):
The various nationalistic, ethnic, ideological and religious contrasts continuously nurture dangerous confusion, not only in regard to the unquestionable ontological unity of the human race, but also in regard to man’s relationship to sacred creation. The sacredness of the human person is constrained to partial claims for the “individual”, whereas his relationship toward the rest of sacred creation is subjected to his arbitrary use or abuse of it.

These divisions of the world introduce an unjust inequality in the participation of individuals, or even peoples in the goods of Creation; they deprive billions of people of basic goods and lead to the misery for the human person; they cause mass population migration, kindle nationalistic, religious and social discrimination and conflict, threatening traditional internal societal coherence. These consequences are still more abhorrent because they are inextricably linked with the destruction of the natural environment and the entire ecosystem.

The greenhouse effect that may be cooling the climate - earth - 10 October 2008 - New Scientist Environment

The greenhouse effect that may be cooling the climate - earth - 10 October 2008 - New Scientist Environment: "HERE is one greenhouse effect that is welcome: the roofs of hothouse farms in Spain reflect so much sunlight that they may be pushing down local temperatures.

Since the 1970s, semi-arid pasture land in Almeria, south-eastern Spain, has been replaced by greenhouse horticulture. Today, Almeria has the largest expanse of greenhouses in the world - around 26,000 hectares."

Hat-tip to Nouslife, who comments: "Of course, the effect of this agriculture on the water table is another story."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Spirituality and Conservation IUCN Forum 9th October 2008

Spirituality and Conservation IUCN Forum 9th October 2008

I want to say that I believe it essential that Faith Communities and environmental organizations partner and work together.

I know that in the past there has been a lack of contact, and even suspicion: Environmentalists believing that Faith Communities were only interested in heavenly matters and so were no earthly good, and some religions thinking that environmentalists were leading us down the path of pantheism and new age philosophies.

There are a number of reasons why it is so important that environmentalists partner with us:

  1. The environmental crisis is a moral and spiritual matter. We know values have to change if we are to achieve a sustainable world. Religious and spiritual traditions are fundamental drivers of human behaviour. Religions can change people’s behaviour and offer hope, inspiration and action.

  1. Religion is a pervasive force in society. Let’s work with religions. Some say that it is only going to be the religions that will turn us from our present disastrous direction.

  1. Religions have a huge network base grounded in local communities – I want you, the IUCN partners, to link in with that.
IUCN in turn need to encourage religions to recognise that the environment is part of their responsibility. This is happening. We are here at this Forum, and increasingly religions are putting the environment onto their agenda.

For example, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has said: “For the Church of the 21st Century, good ecology is not an optional extra but a matter of justice. It is central to what it means to be a Christian”. It is core gospel business.

Following the call from the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church and the World Council of Churches, we have set aside a period in the church’s calendar: a Season of Creation – a time to raise the profile of creation and to celebrate it.

We are rediscovering that there are two books of God – the Bible and nature.

Just as I believe it essential that conservation and religion work together, so must science and religion. I am married to a scientist, so I know how advantageous that is!

So you can help us to develop ecologically premised thinking, bringing environmental and scientific reality to Faith Communities.

Let me give some examples: In the Judeo-Christian world one of the most misused passages is Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful…fill the earth…rule over every living creature”. Well, we have filled the earth and we have abused the command to ‘rule’ or ‘have dominion over’. The Biblical understanding is to care for, look after, protect. We need to put Genesis 2:15 alongside where we are told to till and “keep” the earth. We are to be “earthkeepers”.

South Africa under apartheid is an example of where we abused the mandate ‘to rule’ – we failed to rule with justice for all the people of the country.

Judaeo-Christian traditions recognise and worship a creator God. The creation story in Genesis is a profound theological story. It should not be seen as a scientific explanation.

I used to say that I did not mind if a person was a creationist or an evolutionist – my concern was that we are destroying life on this planet, whatever our beliefs.

I think it is imperative to recognise evolution so that we see that we are integrally part of creation – we are not ‘set apart’ from it.

The danger of creationism is that we think that somebody up there, out of nothing, brought Man into being, with a superior purpose and meaning in life, and that we are special and can consider ourselves superior and therefore treat the rest of creation with disdain and contempt.

All of us, people of faith or not, must overcome our anthropocentric assumptions that we humans are the centre of everything.

We have to recognise that we are part of life – we are part of all of creation and must treat it all with justice and respect. We must become eco-centric.

Faith Communities have a good record of seeking justice, leading the campaign for the abolition of slavery and standing against apartheid.

Religions also call for equity.

Because of our use of the stored fossil fuel capital of previous millennia, coal and oil, we have more wealth in the world than ever before –– yet we have greater poverty and economic injustice. We have a global apartheid situation with inequalities world wide that are far wider than they were in South Africa’s apartheid days.

We Christians say that God provides for our needs, but not our greed. It is an affront to God that a CEO can earn in a few days what someone else may earn in a lifetime, or even, dare I say, that we can stay in the wonderful luxury of these hotels, while there are children dying because they have no clean water. From here in Barcelona, that poverty may be on another continent. In Cape Town, it is alongside.

Most religions, I think, proclaim that we should live more simply so that others may live. Sacrificial love is at the heart of the Christian message. When confronted with the challenge of climate change and biodiversity loss I would hope that Christians would say ‘I am prepared to pull in my belt and forgo the luxury I now enjoy for the sake of my children and future generations.’ That means, for example, that if we have to pay more for renewable energy, we do so, rather than leaving an uninhabitable planet to future generations.

Religions call for peace, but we won’t find peace without justice and equity, and that now extends to all of creation.

We are calling for new economic principles that bring justice and equity to both the poor and the natural environment – as Achim Steiner suggested, ‘we must build environmental and social capital’.

We also hope we religions can help communicate the challenge. When people ask why biodiversity loss is so important, we can say in strong and emotive language that we are causing the extinction of God’s creation. And we need to be blunt, and say that is a sin! I can think of no greater sin than wiping out something that we believe God brought into being. .

We know the position is so serious that we hope we can promote unity against this common threat.

Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI)

I want to tell you what we are doing in South Africa: We have established a multi faith Environment Institute. We have members of all major religions represented on our management board, including African traditional religions. None of us feel threatened or our faith compromised – our own faith can be deepened in learning from others. Our purpose is to find common concerns and actions regarding the environment from our respective faith positions. We get on so well in SAFCEI we believe we are an example to the world!

We are committed to cherishing living earth, united in our diversity through our common commitment to earthkeeping.

Finally, we uphold as core values the principles of the Earth Charter.

  1. Respect and care for the community of life

    II. Ecological integrity

III. Social and economic justice

IV. Democracy, non-violence and peace

This is a global ethic that supports local practices and action.

The Earth Charter is a document all faiths could endorse and embrace and we ask that all faiths disseminate and promote it. It upholds principles for nature and for people and we believe could be a unifying document which could underpin a mass movement for the greatest cause, that of life itself, as Julia Marton LeFeuvre said at our grand opening. So let’s work together. There is lots to be done.

Bishop Geoffrey F Davies 8th October 2008


P O Box 106,

KALK BAY 7990,

South Arica


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Failure on climate change will 'haunt humanity': Australian expert

AFP: Failure on climate change will 'haunt humanity': Australian expert: "Failure to curb global warming would 'haunt humanity' forever, Australia's top climate adviser said Tuesday as he urged the country to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 60 percent by 2050.

Ross Garnaut, presenting his long-awaited report on climate change, said Australia was more vulnerable to rising temperatures than any other developed country because of its hot, dry climate and faced environmental destruction and a major decline in farming in nothing was done.

'If we fail, on a balance of probabilities, the failure of our generation will haunt humanity until the end of time,' Garnaut told reporters in Canberra."
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