SOMALIA: Worries over soil contamination in Ayaha
Children playing in a pool of water
in Ayaha valley
HARGEYSA, 13 May 2005 (IRIN) - Two
years after experts warned that the soil in Ayaha
valley near Hargeysa in the self-declared Republic of
Somaliland was contaminated with chemicals, local
authorities have yet to move about 18,000 people
living there to a safer site.
A strong smell hangs over the villages dotted across
Farah Abdilahi Abrar, Somaliland's director of
disaster preparedness, told IRIN that the
contamination had posed "real dangers" to the people
living there. He declined to give details, referring
the matter instead to the Ministry of Agriculture,
which he said was responsible for overseeing efforts
to contain the problem.
Noor Ahmed Ibrahim, director-general of the Somaliland
Ministry of Agriculture, told IRIN: "Most of the
measures proposed [to minimize the risk] are yet to be
An official at the land department in Hargeysa
municipality, who requested anonymity, told IRIN that
efforts to relocate the residents were hindered by
inadequate land around the municipality and the
refusal by the people living in the area to move far
The chemicals, mainly pesticides, had been stored by
the Desert Locust Control Organisation (DLCO). The
regional body is also involved in controlling
migratory pests such as grain-eating birds, the army
worm and the tsetse fly in East Africa and the Horn of
"Our station was overrun during the [the late Siyad]
Barre war [of 1991]," Peter Odiyo, the director of
DLCO, told IRIN from his organisation's headquarters
in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.
"Hargeysa was our main operational base," Odiyo added.
"But it was vandalised by people who did not care
about pollution. The [Ayaha] valley may have been
A disposal team, Odiyo added, was currently taking
stock of whatever may still be there and preparing to
dispose it of.
"The valley was not the only site," Odiyo told IRIN.
"There were also other sites."
Another DLCO officer, Nicholas Wambugu, told IRIN that
records obtained from the valley alone on 30 October
1989, showed that 14,200 litres of different chemicals
- including fenitrothion, malathion, diazionon and
durban - were in the DLCO stores. The chemicals were
stored in 200 litre metallic drums, he added.
"People took them away in the chaos," Wambugu told
IRIN. "Three of our watchmen who tried to stay got
Ibrahim told IRIN that during heavy bombardment of
Hargeysa by Barre's forces from 1989 to 1990, some of
the drums got hit and chemicals were spilled. The
forces were trying to dislodge the rebel Somali
National Movement (SNM), which had entered Hargeysa.
The war ended in late 1991, after Barre fled Mogadishu
and the SNM took control of Hargeysa. According to
Ibrahim, local residents later opened some of the
containers, poured the chemicals away and started
using the empty drums for water storage and in
"The dangers have escalated," Ibrahim said. "There are
cases of deformities reported in children born around
the contaminated areas [suspected to be linked to the
contamination], and [suspicious] deaths, including two
of my ministry watchmen guarding the DLCO compound.
They used containers from the compound to store
The experts, who were hired from the Kenya Plant
Health Inspectorate Service by the UN Development
Programme in 2003 to assess the level of contamination
in the area, warned that the valley was contaminated.
Their report, dated 13 July 2003, states that soil
samples taken around the DLCO compound showed the
presence of 92.72 percent lindane, 89 percent
hetachlor, 90.69 percent aldrin, 92.58 percent alpha-endosulfan,
70 percent DDE, 70.19 percent endrin, 89.21 percent
dieldrin and 90.23 percent beta-endosulfan.
"Some chemical drums are suspected to be buried inside
the main compound, and they could still contain some
active chemicals," the experts said. "This is a high
chemical contaminated area which should be free of
human and domestic animal activities."
The 2003 report stated that the "nearest living
quarters are just 14-20 metres from the perimeter
wall." It warned: "Due to lack of land in the city and
huge number of returnees, residential houses around
the ex-DLCO compound are increasing at an alarming
"The high concentration of organochlorine pesticides
detected in the soil samples indicates high
contamination of the entire Ayaha valley," the report
added. "The contamination can be classified as an
example of a catastrophe of mass proportion."
The experts warned that organochlorine pesticides were
persistent chemicals which could last in the
environment for a long time.
"During rainy seasons, the chemicals after being
washed downstream into the municipality of Hargeysa
will pose a big danger to the town’s residents and
those living in the valley who often use the streams
to fetch drinking water," the report noted.
According to the experts, it was necessary to
ascertain whether deformities among children and high
rate of miscarriage experienced in the valley could
have resulted from the high chemical concentration in
and around the ex-DLCO compound.
They recommended that families living in Ayaha valley
be relocated to a safer area. They also advised that
no returnees or other residents be allowed to settle
there, that the contaminated area be fenced off and
that soil believed to contain the pesticides be
UN agencies and NGOs discussed the report and
recommended that a joint task force be set up with the
government to implement measures proposed by the
A letter from UNDP said the experts had showed the
"extent of this contamination" and "confirms our worst
On the basis of these findings, the task force was set
However since its creation in September 2004, the task
force has only constructed a perimeter wall around the
DLCO compound and started some mobilisation activities
in the communities against dangers posed by
Ibrahim told IRIN that while he had urged Hargeysa
municipal authorities not to construct a primary
school next to the compound, a six-room school has
Local residents told IRIN they were worried that the
presence of the chemicals had affected their health.
Amina Warfa, a 42-year-old mother of two who has lived
in the valley since her childhood, told IRIN that she
had suffered two miscarriages in the past four years.
Abdi Saleban Hassan, headmaster of Ayaha Primary
School, which is situated 50 metres away from the DLCO
compound, told IRIN that the aid agencies had stopped
a feeding programme at the school and parents now
feared bringing their children to class.
A visit to the site over the weekend showed that
ordinary people are oblivious to the dangers posed by
the chemicals. Livestock grazed in the area, children
were playing nearby.
"Some people still jump over the perimeter wall to
steal the contaminated containers," Fatuma Diriye, a
local resident, told IRIN.