ICE Case Studies

Case Number: 65

Case Mnemonic: SOMWASTE

Case Name: Somalia Waste Imports and Civil War


1. Abstract

During the Somali civil war hazardous waste was dumped in this African nation by industrialized countries. The alleged perpetrators were Italian and Swiss firms who supposedly entered into a contract with the Somali government to dump waste in the war ravaged African nation. The issue of dumping in Somalia is two fold in that it is both a legal question and a moral question. First, is there a violation of international treaties in the export of hazardous waste to Somalia. Second, is it ethically questionable to negotiate a hazardous waste disposal contract with a country in the midst of a protracted civil war and with a government that can best be described as tenuous and factionalized?

2. Description

With the abdication of President Siad Barre in 1989, the country of Somalia was thrown in a state of anarchy. The country is currently ruled by a series of warlords each holding a small section of the country. The rival factions have been at war with each other since the mid-eighties and a mission by the United Nations to stabilize the country has now ended in apparent political failure. The war led to a serious famine that was solved by the intervention. Less publicized was the exploitation of the Somalian crisis by firms who specialize in the disposal of hazardous waste.

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.

3. Duration: 1992-93

4. Location

Continent: Mideast

Region: Middle East Africa

Country: Somalia

5. Actors: Somalia, Switzerland, Italy, UN

Due to the chaotic state of the Somali Republic, no trade protection measures are effective at this time. It is also worth reiterating that Somalia has still not signed the Basel Convention or the Bamako Convention, which bans the import of hazardous waste in African States. 18. Industry Sector: WASTE 19. Exporter and Importer: ITALY and SOMALia

II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem: Pollution Land

Some fear that Africa may become a dumping ground for hazardous waste from industrialized countries such as Italy. The primary cause of this is cost. It has been estimated that it costs as little as $2.50 per ton to dump hazardous waste in Africa as opposed to $250 per ton in Europe.

7. Type of Habitat: Dry

8. Act and Harm Sites: Somalia and Somalia

III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict: Civil

10. Level of Conflict: High

11. Fatality Level of Dispute: 5

III. Environment and Conflict Overlap

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics: Direct

13. Level of Strategic Interest: Substate

14. Outcome of Dispute: Stalemate

IV. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE Cases

  1. DEADSEA case
  2. LITANI case
  3. SUDAN case
  4. MARSH case
  5. LEBANON case

16. Relevant Websites and Literature


"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).

November, 1997

Some material from the TED Somalia Case