EU firms should stop toxic dumping off Somalia
08.12.08 @ 08:30
The European Union's defence ministers launched on 10 November 2008 an anti-piracy mission called "Atalanta" off the coast of Somalia.
The bloc claims that the goal of the enterprise is "to escort the World Food Programme's humanitarian convoys to Somalia and to contribute to the improvement of maritime security off the Somali coast as part of the European Union's overall action to stabilise Somalia."
More recently, the EU pushed for a UN Security Council resolution that was adopted on 2 December to allow member states to fight pirates off the coast of Somalia.
The French UN Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert expressed his satisfaction with the resolution because: "Piracy is killing. Every day more than three million Somali people are depending on food aid, on emergency relief - which comes, 95 percent of it - by sea."
In a time when Somalia is experiencing one of its most serious humanitarian crises ever, one would think that the unexpected determination and speed of the EU in deploying military muscle in the region should be welcomed by the Somali people.
But unfortunately, Atalanta looks like another disappointing duplicity toward the war-torn nation. Doubts hang over whether the EU is genuinely keen to help the people of Somalia in their desperate search for peace and stability.
Securing supply of oil
Two factors undermine the credibility of the EU's operation in Somalia. Firstly, the main goal of the mission seems to be to secure the supply of goods and oil to the rich countries in the West.
In the past, the European Union resolutely rejected repeated calls from the African Union and Somalia's neighbours to deploy peace-keeping forces in the country.
The rise of piracy on Somalia's waters has suddenly ignited a spark in the corridors of EU decision makers, after the hijacking of a large Saudi oil tanker reminded the western world of the vulnerability of maritime trade at a time of financial crisis.
The organisation Refugees International (RI) criticised, recently, this global hypocrisy toward Somalia. The RI stated that "the speed and resolve with which piracy has been addressed by the UN Security Council underlines Somali sentiment that economic interests trump humanitarian concerns."
Secondly, the EU's inability or unwillingness to stop and punish the European-owned companies that have for many years been dumping toxic waste off the Somali coast seriously undermines the ethical claims of the new EU endeavour.
In 1996, when I was in the northern autonomous region, Puntland, in Somalia, there was already a widespread fear that foreign ships were taking advantage of the collapse of the Somalian state by using the nation's waters as a refuse dump.
When the tsunami of 2004 hit the country, the United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that many waste containers washed up on the the coast of Puntland. It is now widely understood that European companies are systematically dumping toxic waste in these waters.
The UN special envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, has in the past few months repeatedly sounded the alarm about illegal fishing and toxic dumping off Somalia by European firms.
Mr Abdullah said that his organisation has "reliable information" that European and Asian companies are dumping the waste - including nuclear waste, - in this region.
The European Union has responded to these allegations with silence.
At a press conference on 2 December, following the UN Security Council resolution on Somalia, a reporter from Inner City Press asked Ambassador Ripert of France, which holds the EU's presidency, about how the waste issue will be dealt with.
The ambassador answered: "I have no comment on the issue."
There is now a fear that, if the EU clears Somali waters of pirates, European waste-dumping firms will inherit a safe haven to exercise their criminal and immoral activities.
If Europe wants to help the unfortunate people of Somalia, the most responsible and credible way to start would be stop and punish those companies.
In the long term, the union should also develop a comprehensive plan for the restoration of peace and stability in the country.
The Somali born author is a chemist at Linkoping University Hospital, Sweden and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org