Breakdown in Environmental Governance

Long-running conflicts can leave governments so degraded that the institutions necessary to protect human health from pollutants can be wholly absent. In the absence of regulatory control over their environment, states may become the targets for unscrupulous practices banned elsewhere. Meanwhile the lack of robust domestic regulatory frameworks can encourage polluters within the country and reduce environmental awareness.


Case study: Somalia 
Hargeisa, Somaliland/Somalia 2005 - rusted barrels are all that is left from a locust pesticide store that was bombed and later looted. Locals dumped 81,000 litres of pesticides into the ground in order to re-use the storage drums. The pesticides were believed to have included dieldrin, heptachlor, BHC, DDT, malathion, fenitrothion, mevinphos, diazinon and tetrachlorvinphos, and after refuges returned to the area the WHO sought to examine the health risks from exposure. Credit Kersten Gutschmidt.

Hargeisa, Somaliland/Somalia 2005 – rusted barrels are all that is left from a locust pesticide store that was bombed and later looted. Locals dumped 81,000 litres of pesticides into the ground in order to re-use the storage drums. The pesticides were believed to have included dieldrin, heptachlor, BHC, DDT, malathion, fenitrothion, mevinphos, diazinon and tetrachlorvinphos, and after refuges returned to the area the WHO investigated the health risks from exposure. Credit Kersten Gutschmidt.

Decades of conflict in Somalia have left it without the governmental institutions and infrastructure to regulate and minimise pollution. From the mid-1990s onwards, reports repeatedly surfaced of allegations that both toxic and radioactive waste from European and US companies had been dumped at a number of sites around the country and in its coastal waters. Firms linked to organised crime were alleged to have taken advantage of Somalia’s environmental governance vacuum to dump the waste. The dumping of such waste is illegal under several international treaties.

A 2005 study by the UN Environment Programme found no evidence of dumped toxic waste at a number of sites visited but called for a more comprehensive investigation. Somalian and international civil society organisations and the Italian media claim to have identified both the companies involved in the practice and some dump sites. The issue was discussed at the United Nations Security Council in 2011 within the wider context of the role that environmental degradation has played in fuelling instability in Somalia but the illegal dumping in the country is still yet to be officially verified.

More prosaically, the World Health Organisation has documented the widespread mismanagement of industrial and domestic waste in the country. Environmental risk education has also been affected by the lack of functioning institutions, placing communities at risk and encouraging the continuation of damaging practices. War damage, weak oversight and minimal governmental control have also been a factor in incidents relating to the unsafe storage and use of industrial chemicals and pesticides in the country.    

Key issues
  • Long running conflicts and instability can weaken environmental governance, encouraging environmentally damaging practices that place communities at risk from pollutants.
  • The absence of regulatory frameworks and oversight can mean that the impact of these practices on human health and the environment is not adequately monitored or responded to.
  • International assistance is critical but this must be comprehensive, transparent and long-term.
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