Pollution encompassing air, water and waste generation are major environmental problems in Somalia. Additionally, it has become increasingly evident that poor environmental quality has adversely affected human health in the country [1], [2]. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the average annual level of particulate matter (PM2.5) in Somalia is around 3 times higher than the WHO recommended value (5µg/m3). This exposure to air pollution causes diseases and adverse health outcomes. For instance, 45% of deaths from stroke and ischaemic heart disease are caused by air pollution in Somalia [3].

Rapid urbanization and the lack of a waste management system in the country is creating a growing solid and liquid waste problem [1]. The World Bank roughly estimates that Somalia’s urban areas generate over 1,500 tons of solid waste per day [2]. However, currently, only a small fraction of this waste from the country’s major cities and towns is collected [4], while uncollected waste is scattered across neighbourhoods and in public spaces [2] or burned. Collected waste is then transported and dumped in landfills located in suburbs of major towns and cities, without the separation process of hazardous and non-hazardous waste. In fact, there is no distinction between the nature of waste in Somalia; whether solid, liquid, or any other form, waste will be considered as waste and dumped in dumping sites. Municipal solid waste disposal sites become the source of air, soil, and water pollution, and release large amounts of GHG emissions due to their high bio-waste content. Further, Somalia’s recycling industry is non-existent. As such, two commonly used materials like plastic bags and bottles, are dumped or sometimes burned. Somalia’s solid waste management is thus deficient in all its stages. As a result, waste is a major environmental problem in Somalia, which affects people's and animal health, coastal and marine environments, and affects the socio-economic conditions of the people [4].

Due to poor waste management in the country, many urban rivers and surface water bodies in Somalia are chocked with pollution. The Shabelle River can be mentioned as an example of surface water mainly serving as an outlet for liquid, solid, domestic, and industrial waste material [5].

In addition, despite existing rules and regulations, in the absence of a strong Somali coast guard, the dumping of toxic and hazardous waste in the territorial waters of Somalia continues unchecked [1], [4]. According to Somalia’s Initial Communication to the UNFCCC, this hazardous waste is comprised of uranium, radioactive waste, lead, cadmium, mercury, industrial, hospital, chemical, leather treatment and other toxic waste [5]. Therefore, such illegal activities present a significant danger to both human and environmental health in the country [1].


Major sources of outdoor air pollution in Somalia include fuel combustion from motor vehicles (e.g., cars and heavy-duty vehicles), power generation (e.g., fuel generators for electricity), and municipal waste sites and waste burning [2]. Additionally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 97% of Somalia’s population are without clean fuels and technology for cooking [3]. Consequently, most households cook with firewood, charcoal and even animal dung, which causes harmful indoor air pollution [1].

The direct and indirect causes of pollution of surface (river, wetlands) water sources, groundwater, and coastal areas have accelerated due to the lack of appropriate waste management systems in the country [2]. For instance, improper disposal of effluents such as those originating from tanneries and the few existing factories – many of them improperly sited in or near residential areas or water sources – render water unsafe for any domestic use and represent a potential hazard to human health [5].

Households, agriculture, fisheries, and commerce industry are the main sources of waste in the country, with waste generation increasing due to population growth and social and economic development [4]. At the same time, rapid urbanization, inadequate municipal services, and low public environmental awareness are contributing to Somalia’s growing waste problem [2], [5].  As such, lack of proper waste collection, transportation, disposal, landfills, dumpsites, sanitation, and management is a key problem in Somalia [4].

There are several predisposing factors that have made Somalia an attractive illegal hazardous waste dumping destination, including the volatile political environment, expansive and unmanned land areas, a suitable geographical location, inadequate public awareness, and general greed. While treatment and disposal of toxic waste in Europe or in other industrialized regions are costly operations, disposal costs are far cheaper in developing countries. For this reason, many African coastal regions are being used as dumping grounds. In Somalia, the dumping of hazardous waste alongside the country’s long coast by foreign companies has been evident since the early 1990s [5].


Key policies and governance approach

The key legal instrument for the management of environmental affairs in Somalia is the Constitution. Article 25 of the Constitution states that “[every Somali] has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being, and to be protected from pollution and harmful materials”. Additionally, the Somali Cabinet, on February 13, 2020, approved the National Environment Policy [6] which provides for an elaboration of the right to a healthy environment, provided for in the Constitution [2]. This Policy represents the first time that an environmental policy was developed and taken to Cabinet level for approval, since the collapse of the previous central administration in 1991 [6].

The National Environment Policy (2019) aims to mainstream environmental concerns into all development activities in the country. The Policy is intended to be a guide for action for (i) developing programs and projects for environmental conservation; (ii) reviewing and enacting legislation at Federal and State levels; and (iii) stimulating partnerships of different stakeholders for environmental management. The overall goal of the policy is to improve and enhance the health and quality of life of the Somali people and to promote sustainable development through the sound management of the country’s natural resources. This goal is to be achieved through 3 main strategic objectives (1) conservation of natural resources; (2) environmental governance; and (3) multi-stakeholder partnerships. Additionally, the Policy also contains the following guiding principles: (i) environmental right; (ii) sustainable development; (iii) public participation; (iv) precautionary principle; (v) polluter-pays principle; (vi) legal liability; (vii) decentralization; (viii) mainstreaming; and (ix) preventive action [2], [7].

Through this policy document, the government seeks to adopt approaches to deal with key environment challenges, including waste management, hazardous waste, air pollution and water pollution. For instance, through implementation of this Policy, the government shall, among other things, set emission standards and strengthen the monitoring and enforcement of emission standards for fuel combustion and other pollution sources; prepare and implement action plans for major cities for addressing water pollution, treatment, reuse, and recycle where applicable, of sewage and waste water from municipal and industrial sources, before final discharge to water bodies; and undertake a study of the solid waste situation in key urban areas and propose appropriate recommendations to be implemented to address the issue [2], [7].

At the Federal level, the Directorate of the Environment and Climate Change (“DoECC”) takes the lead in the formulation of all environmental policies and laws [6], and exercises the overall policy, planning and implementation oversight mandate for environmental matters in the country. Federal Member States have their own ministries of environment, responsible for managing the environment in their respective states and for adopting policies and legislations that are in alignment with national policies and legislations [2].

Successes and remaining challenges

The policies and legislative frameworks of Somalia related to the environment are weak and outdated, as much of the country’s environmental laws date back to the 1960s, 70s and 80s [1]. At the same time, critical legal instruments necessary to support environmental management are underdeveloped, including regulations relating to hazardous waste management, chemicals management, air emissions standards, and water quality standards [8]. There is, therefore, an urgent need for Somalia to enact up-to-date legislation in order to address pollution and waste management in the country [2].

Existing environmental legislative frameworks concerning pollution are mostly at State levels, in Somaliland and Puntland, though, enforcement remains weak [1] as institutions suffer from limited human and financial resource capacities to carry out their mandates [8]. In fact, there is very weak capacity for environmental management at both the levels of the Federal Member State (FMS) and the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS). For instance, according to the World Bank, the Directorate of the Environment, which is federally mandated to oversee the management of the environment, has less than 50 staff members in all (including those responsible for administration, finance, planning, monitoring, enforcement, etc.), of which less than 5 have qualifications related to environmental planning and management [6]. Both FGS and FMS institutions have noted poor institutional capacity in terms of human resources, skills and expertise, technology, and budgetary resources [8], which will need to be addressed.

Despite these challenges, the development of the National Environment Policy, which is expected to improve health and the quality of life by promoting sustainable development through the sound management of the country's natural resources, represents an important step towards addressing pollution for Somalia [1].

  • Review existing legislations and identify, prepare and enact new legislations in line with the National Environment Policy [1], [2].
  • Encourage and facilitate the review of legislations at Member State levels to ensure consistency with the National Environment Policy [1], [2].
  • Ensure accountability of relevant levels of Government (Centre and State) in undertaking the necessary legislative changes in a defined timeframe, with due regard to the objectives and principles of the National Environment Policy [1], [2].
  • Put in place supportive mechanisms for institutional capacity building, so that policy implementation, enforcement and monitoring are strengthened [1], [2].
  • Capacity enhancement for the DoECC in combating air and land pollution is urgently required [6].
  • Establish an independent Environmental Agency which, among other things, monitors all activities in the country that have an impact on the environment and provides independent information on the environment [2].
  • There is a need to recruit staff for the implementing institutions. For this, adequate financial resources should be allocated to ensure effective management in their capacity to enforce the regulatory frameworks [8].
  • In order to rapidly advance scientific understanding of environmental issues, including pollution, it is necessary to promote properly focussed research by competent institutions. A continuous engagement with the scientific community, in government, academic, and private institutions, will provide important insights for policy making and regulation [2].
  • Update the National Environment Policy as new knowledge and scientific developments become known [2].
  • Enhancing environmental awareness is essential to harmonize patterns of individual behaviour with the requirements of environmental conservation [2].
  • Access to environmental information is the principal means by which environmentally conscious stakeholders may evaluate compliance by the concerned parties with environmental standards, legal requirements, and agreements [2].
  • Air quality standards need to be set by the federal government, officially outlining limits, especially for particulate matter (which is a great environmental risk in Somalia) [6].
  • Vehicle emission standards are required urgently and need to be developed in close association with the Somali Customs, in order to regulate imports (which are currently unregulated) [6].
  • In particular, the FGS should adopt regional (EAC) air quality and pollution standards to regulate urban transport and other trade activities with direct impact on community health and livelihoods [6].
  • Somalia should develop a National Waste Management Policy, which includes provisions for hazardous waste management and treatment facilities [8].
  • In order to reduce the significant problem of solid waste management in the country, municipalities should be required to designate appropriately sited landfills for each town or city [6].
  • Introduce robust waste segregation at the source, and promote the implementation of the refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle (RRRR) waste management principal [4].
  • Public-private partnerships in the management of solid waste should be catalyzed in the municipalities in Somalia [6].