Family Cristiana, Barbara Carazzolo, Alberto Chiara and Luciano Scalettari, together with Francesco Carcano (Italian Swiss TV), Davide Demichelis (freelance journalist), Andrea Di Stefano (Espresso-Repubblica group), Angelo Ferrari (currently Agi), Giancarlo Fortunato (photojournalist) and Raffaele Masto (Popular Radio)
Divided into two groups, some of them went to Somalia, making stops in Berbera, Bosaso, Burao, Hargeisa, Mogadishu, Marka, Kismayo. This report was the result of their six months of work. Translated from Italian to English.
The “Island of Salt” project is only the tip of the iceberg, the most disturbing aspect of a planetary problem was the disposal of nuclear waste, toxic waste, residues from polluting industrial processes. Rich countries produce enormous quantities. Only a fraction, however, is treated while respecting the laws.
Often drums and tanks are shipped abroad. The final destinations are carefully chosen. Countries that are torn by civil war were obviously favored, since it was easy to obtain the availability of pieces of land in exchange for arms supplies and adequate funding for the contending parties.
In 1987, in Milan and Rome, a project was developed, called “Uranus”, to cover large quantities of toxic-harmful industrial waste in three desert locations in the Sahara.
On August 5, 1987, the agreement protocol was signed by Elio Sacchetto, the Mining Company Rio de Oro, and by Luciano Spada, the Instrumag A.G. to promote “Uranus” (in Italy, in Europe, in Africa), however, it was Guido Garelli, 54, according to sources worked with the Italians, Somalis and Territorial Authorities of the Sahara who made suggestions.
In the documents, all stamped “classified”, specified that everything will be done “in full respect of the laws of the countries and the norms sanctioned by international law.” Among the materials planned for transport was pesticides, electrochemical baths waste, nitric acid and textually “pharmaceutical waste” as well as “waste with an unknown composition.”
At the end of the eighties, when the regime of Siad Barre went into crisis, the attention of the traffickers were on Somalia, a nation in the hands of a greedy prey.
In May 1991, the Somali Health Minister, Nur Elmi Osman, and the Governor of the Central Bank, Ali Abdì Amalò, both whom were connected to Ali Mahdi, the interim president of Somalia, have printed bills to be discounted in exchange for medicines to be send to Somalia. The total amount of loans requested was nearly 13 billion lire. Italian companies were contacted with the request to facilitate the payment. The bills were registered and declared payable to a company named Finchart.
The operation left disturbing questions wide open.
• How was it possible for medicines to be send to a country which was torn by civil war, especially with the port of Mogadishu being not fit to be used at that time?
• How would the government have paid if government funds are frozen in Italian banks because of the war?
• How can SACE (the body of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Trade whom ensures the operations of Italian companies abroad) become the guarantor of the operation?
It was obvious that there were other means of financial satisfactory, which Ali Mahdi was able to provide – like the disposal of toxic waste in territories controlled by Ali Mahdi who at the time needed economic resources and war materials in order to strengthen his militia.
In fact, a few months later, Jagiswar Singh, an Indian by birth and Swiss by adoption, was asked to find a bank or financial institution willing to carry out the discount operation of Finchart’s bills. Singh found Swiss Achair & Partners whom were willing to provide fundings, but requested for a concession in the disposal of toxic waste in the Somali territory.
On December 5, 1991, a contract was signed. Achair & Partners was authorized to build a multi-purpose center for the treatment, incineration and disposal of special and toxic hospital and industrial waste. While waiting for the construction of the Center, the contract was issued, the waste was stored in the chosen area for an annual volume of 500 thousand tons.
The deal was established. Ali Mahdi assigned the territory for waste dumping and in return was given the weapons to fight. The Swiss company consulted with another Italian, Marcello Giannoni, whom was given mandate by Awais Nur Osman (Minister of Foreign Trade in Somalia in Nov. 1991) to find the industrial projects to be established in Somali regions.
In 1992, in Nairobi, Kenya, meetings and conversations were held for the development of Project Uranus to be carried out in the Horn of Africa. The confidential letter of intent was signed on June 24th in 1992 by Guido Garelli, Ezio Scaglione (honorary consul of Somalia) and Giancarlo Marocchino.
On August 1992, Mustafa Tolba, UNEP secretary, warned: “Italian companies are dumping toxic waste in Somalia. I can not name names, I would jeopardize the lives of many people,” he announced.
Soon after the announcement by Tolba, Stefan Weber, from the Swiss section of Greenpeace, revealed that there was three ships laden with waste spotted in the Gulf of Aden.
On August 19, 1996, Ali Mahdi authorized Ezio Scaglione to create a plan for the disposal of toxic waste in the El Baraf; Warsheikh, north of the capital, where according to General Morgan in 1992, nuclear waste was burnt; the coast that goes from Mogadishu to the north, where many underground deposits would have been dug.
Then, on September 8th, 1992, a “confidential” fax transmitted to Nairobi, at UNEP headquarters, highlighted the alarm caused to Hargeisa by the arrival of 81 thousand liters of “obsolete pesticides”.
Finally, a series of landfills were made in Jowhar, and along the Garowe-Bosaso road in the desert plateau between the Sanaag region and that of Bari. Not to mention the discharges made offshore, which was signaled by fishermen.
UNEP, delved into the outstanding reports by assigning a field examiner to investigate the matters. They have assigned Mahdi Gedi Qayad, a former professor of Chemistry at the University of Mogadishu as a consultant.
The mission began on May 10th, and it ended on June 8th, 1997.
After few months of investigation, UNEP has denied the existence of hazardous waste but we managed to get a copy of their reports, interviews and clues. We managed to obtain two of the most significant incidents: the death of a fisherman intoxicated by the contents of a bag found on the beach of Brava which presented documents with photos and videos of a cistern, six meters long, on the coast between Ige and Mareeg, 350 kilometers north of Mogadishu.
The dozens of testimonies we collected during our trip to Somalia allowed us to draw up a long list of places where, in all likelihood, highly hazardous waste were deposited in the last 10 years. Starting from the south, it is the city of Jamama (Kismayo area), the area surrounding Marka, the marsh where the Shabele river goes out, of the place called Cinquantesimo, between Marka and the capital.
“It is impossible to monitor the 3,300 kilometers of the coast of Somalia”, states Halifa Omar Drammeh of UNEP. “One of our priority objectives for 1998 is precisely the fight against illegal dumping of toxic waste in Somali waters, work of ships and foreign companies.”
The effects of such a prolonged work of pollution did not delay in manifesting itself. Strange diseases affected men and animals. Four years ago, a doctor reports from Marka, an excessive number of tumors of the tongue, thyroid, rectum, and too many cases of neonatal malformations. Of course, the report has no follow-up.
No one knows what happened to the UN investigation carried out following the two mysterious explosions heard on the 5th and 7th of December of 1995 in the regions of Sanaag, Berbera and Sol, in northern Somalia. In the following days, many suffered from breathing difficulties and diarrhea. Some children have even died.
In January 1997, on the coast between the regions of Mudug and Nugaal, after drinking water stored in a bin found on the beach, some people experienced acute pains in the abdomen. They had hemorrhages in the stomach and in the mouth. Many died, and some were transported by plane to the Médecins sans frontières hospital in Kismayo.
In August of 1997, a similar episode occurred in the village of Adehlé (Galgadud region).
In June of 1997, a “suspected fever” hit the area of Warsheikh and victims were reported in the villages of Run Mirgod.
Between January and February 1998, in the lower Shabele dozens of deaths occurred due to an unspecified haemorrhagic fever.
On June 22nd of 1998, the Libyan news agency summarized a study by the Algerian researcher Kadhem Amoudi, according to whom “the high mortality of dromedaries in Somalia is also caused by the dumping of American nuclear waste in the desert of Horn of Africa.”
On June 15 1998, another dispatch from the Libyan agency reports a similar epidemic in the Baidoa area, which involved thousands of people, with dozens of victims at Seyd Helow and Bulo Barakov.
On October 28th of 1998, while a plane took us from Marka to Nairobi, Dr. Pirko Heinnonen from Unicef told us that in Bardale (a small town west of Baidoa, where she had just been), a new epidemic of unknown nature was claiming victims: “At least 120 dead in two months,” she said. “The symptoms are high fever, tremors throughout the body, bleeding in the nose and gums.”
The cistern arrived, people got sick:
A cistern, 6 meters long, corroded by salt water, and a broken trunk. The photos belonged to the set of images attached to the report by Mahdi Gedi Qayad.
To verify the rumors of illegal discharges of toxic-harmful substances, Mahdi Gedi Qayad, had carried out thorough investigations along the Somali coast.
The cistern show in this photo, in particular, was photographed on the beach between Ige and Mareeg, 350 kilometers north of Mogadishu. “Many locals said that a similar cistern discharged into the sea not far from there,” the report read. “Some fishermen have complained about sudden allergies due to paints and other strange symptoms.”
“These ships travel to Africa, carrying highly toxic waste. The poisoned ships continue to transport their unclean cargoes.” This was announced by the magistrate Luciano Tarditi, who spoke in Rome at a conference organized by the parliamentary commission of inquiry on the waste cycle and illegal activities.
Today, in Italy only about 15 percent of waste is disposed of in accordance with the law. The rest ends up in illegal landfills, buried or hidden in rivers and lakes –In Italy or abroad. According to reliable assessments, this “black” business yields between 2 and 6 thousand billion lire.
The poison cargoes are still rising making their way to Somalia, which is a sad reality.
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