Case Mnemonic: SOMWASTE
Case Name: Somalia Waste Imports and Civil War
In the fall of 1992 reports began to appear in the international media concerning unnamed European firms that were illegally dumping waste in Somalia. By most reports, several thousand tons of waste, mostly processed industrial waste, had already been dumped there. It was also reported that waste was seen being dumped off the Somali coast into the Indian Ocean. To further compound the country's environmental problems, a storage facility in northern Somalia filled with pesticides had been destroyed during the war. The spilt chemicals and resulting fire poisoned one of the few sources of drinking water in the famine ravaged country.
What caused controversy in 1992, however, was reports of a contract established between a Swiss firm, Achair Partners, and an Italian firm, Progresso, with Nur Elmy Osman, who claimed to be the Somali Minister of Health under an interim government headed by Ali Mahdi Muhammad. Osman had been a health official in the Barre government, but allegedly was no longer recognized as a government official by Ali Mahdi. Osman had supposedly entered into an $80 million contract in December of 1991, whereby the two firms would be allowed to build a 10 million ton storage facility for hazardous waste. The waste would first be burned in an incinerator to be built on the same site and then stored in the facility at the rate of 500,000 tons a year.
Reports of the alleged contract outraged the world community. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) investigated the matter at the urging of Somalia's neighbors and the Swiss and Italian governments. What ensued was a period of accusations as both firms denied entering into any agreement, Osman denied signing any contract and the Swiss and Italian governments said they had no knowledge of the two firms' activities.
As a result of the UNEP's investigation, the contract was declared null and the facility was never built. Still it became apparent to the UNEP's director Dr. Mustafa Tolba that the firms of Achair Partners and Progresso were set up specifically as fictitious companies by larger industrial firms to dispose of hazardous waste. At one point Dr. Tolba declared that the UNEP was dealing with a mafia.
Beyond the obvious ethical question of trying to coerce a hazardous waste agreement out of an unstable country like Somalia, the attempt by Swiss and Italian firms to dump waste in Somalia violates international treaties to which both countries are signatories. Switzerland has signed and ratified the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (see BASEL case). Somalia and Italy have not signed the Basel Convention. The Basel Convention prohibits (among other things) waste trade between countries that have signed the Convention and countries that have not signed the Convention unless a bilateral waste agreement has been negotiated. Somalia and Switzerland had no such bilateral agreement. The Basel Convention also prohibits shipping hazardous waste to a war zone.
Although not a signatory to the Basel Convention, Italy has signed the fourth Lome Convention. It is the only country in Europe to do so. Italy signed the Lome Convention in order to "prove" its good intentions with regard to the disposal hazardous waste. No reason is given for Italy's failure to sign the Basel Convention (see NIGERIA case). Article 39 of the Lome Convention clearly prohibits the export of waste to Africa as well as the Caribbean and the Pacific.
Region: Middle East Africa
"The Deadly Trade: Toxic Waste Dumping in Africa." Africa Report (September-October 1988). "Africa: Wastebasket of the West." Business and Society Review (Fall 1988). Concern over Toxic Dumping." Times of Oman 12 (September 1992). "Italian Firm Denies Somali Waste Deal." The Guardian (September 11, 1992). "Italy Demands Inquiry on Toxic Waste Dumping in Somalia." European Information Service (September 12, 1992). "Italy Denies Export of Toxic Waste to Somalia." Agence France Presse (September 14, 1992). "Somalia: EC says it Cannot Stop Toxic Waste Dumping in Somalia." Inter Press Service (September 30, 1992). "Somalia: European Firms Dumping Toxic Wastes, UNEP to Probe." Inter Press Service (September 10, 1992). "Somalia: Italy Under Fire for Toxic Dumping Reports." Inter Press Service (September 11, 1992). "Somalia: OAU Concerned Over Toxic Waste Dumping." Inter Presse Service (September 24, 1992). "Somalia: UN, Evacuates Relief Workers, Denies Reports of Toxic Waste Dumping" The British Broadcasting Service 3 (October 1992). "Somali Government Allows Toxic Waste Dumping." Saudi Gazette 13 (September 1992). "Switzerland asks UN help on Somalia Toxic Waste Links." Reuters Limited (September 11, 1992). "Toxic Terrorism invades Third World Nations." Black Enterprise (November 1988). "Toxic Waste Joins Somalia's List of Woes." Chicago Tribune (September 11, 1992). "Toxic Waste Shipment to Somalia Believed Aborted: UNEP." Agence Presse France (October 6, 1992). "Trans-Boundary Waste: UNEP Team Explores Dumping in Somalia." Inter Press Service (September 30, 1992). "UNEP Official Urges African Nations to Approve Basel Accord on Waste." International Environment Reporter (BNA, October 7, 1992).
Some material from the TED Somalia Case