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Gulf urged to shun Somali charcoal

 By Justin Colledge-Wiggins, Staff Reporter

Abu Dhabi - The Gulf states should halt imports of charcoal from Somalia due to the alarming rate trees are being felled there to manufacture charcoal, resulting in a sharp increase in desertification, says one of Somalia's first environmental groups founded in the UAE. Almost 10,000 tonnes of charcoal is being exported from Somalia each month, and it has a devastating effect on the landscape due to the destruction of acacia bushes, says Feysal Ahmed Yusuf, Managing Director of the Somali Environmental Protection and Anti-Desertification Organisations (SEPADO) communication office in Abu Dhabi.

 Reports from Somalia describe the indiscriminate use of pesticides which contaminate water resources, and trees being laid waste for charcoal production. The result is large tracts of the country being reduced to desert. Consequently, four Somalis living in Abu Dhabi have set up an action group to tackle these problems through international collaboration.

Success has come early for the SEPADO, says Yusuf. Talks with the UAE's Federal Environment Agency have been encouraging and could result in the UAE stopping imports of Somali charcoal.

 Trees and bushes provide essential protection for soil - providing protection from wind, rain and sun. Their roots also bind the soil together and help in topsoil formation. SEPADO is desperately lobbying governments about the problems created by Somali charcoal exports. Realising that many nomads' livelihoods depend on its production, they are looking for ways in which nomads can make a living from sustainable projects, says Yusuf.

 SEPADO, headed and founded by Feysal Ahmed Yusuf, a Somali, has benefited from publicity on the BBC Somalia service and is now collaborating with the United Nations Environmental Programme and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Somalia has watched its environment deteriorate as rare animals are hunted for the hard currencies earned from their skins and bones, say the executives of SEPADO. The uncontrolled use of insecticides is also taking its toll. "We have found camels that died after drinking water polluted with insecticides," says Yusuf, and nomads could die if they drank the same water.