Association for the Monitoring of the Resources and the Protection of the Environment (AMRPENWS).
El-Aaiun, Western Sahara: August 29th, 2016
Environmental Issues in Western Sahara
As large as the United Kingdom and with the size of Colorado State, Western Sahara is nestled in the sands of the Sahara between Mauritania, Algeria and Morocco. People of Western Sahara shave been longing for independence and calling for the right of self-determination since the 1970s. While the UN still considers it a non-autonomous territory, the final status is not still a stalemate, tension remains high with Morocco, which de facto controls Western Sahara since 1975.
Western Sahara is one of the most sparsely populated places on Earth. It is the main gate t the big African desert. Just over 500,000 people live in this Western Sahara desert region—and about half of them live in and around the coastal city of El-Aaiun (also known as: Laayoune) the capital. Few thousands more live in other smaller towns such as: Dakhla, Boujdour and Smara. As for its economy, Western Sahara has huge deposits of phosphates, valuable minerals used to make fertilizers and chemicals and phosphate mining is its largest industry. There are also thought to be large oil reserves offshore. Another important industry is fishing—Western Sahara’s coastal waters are teeming with fish. In the desert, many people still live and work as nomadic camel herders. Reports indicate that there are many other minerals yet to be explored and invested in such as: uranium, cobalt, zinc…etc. Even the sand, the wind, the sunrays and the salt are among these rich resources that are found in abundance.
The climate in Western Sahara can be describes as: hot, dry, dust/sand-laden sirocco wind can occur during winter and spring; widespread harmattan haze exists 60% of time, often severely restricting visibility. While some rare flash flooding occurs during spring months causing some noticeable damage to the poor established infrastructure. Along the Atlantic coast, averages high and low temperatures are constant and very moderated throughout the year because cool offshore ocean currents considerably cool off the climate, especially during the day. However, summertime is long and extremely hot and wintertime is short and very warm to truly hot further in the interior, where cooling marine influences aren’t felt anymore. Averages high temperatures exceed 40 °C (104 °F) in summer during a prolonged period of time but can reach as high as 50 °C (122 °F) or even more in places such as Smara, Tichla, Bir Gandus, Bir Anzarane, Aghouinite, Aousserd and others. Averages high temperatures exceed 20 °C (68 °F) in winter but averages low temperatures can drop to 7 °C (44.6 °F) in some places. The sky is usually clear and bright throughout the year and sunny weather is the norm.
The environment consists of all terrestrial and marine biodiversity. In other words, all animal and plant species and the ecosystems in which they operate. The natural resources are essential to the life of mankind and the Earth. Human activities degrade the environment: deter the sustainability of these resources, cause deforestation, and spread the eradication of animal and plant species, water pollution, soil and air. This passively impacts and threatens the survival of all. Some resources, such as fossil fuels are not renewable and are consumed on a massive scale. Moreover, every stage of their operations and their consumption are extremely harmful to the environment. Renewable resources are consumed without concern for their reproduction, biodiversity habitats are progressively destroyed, the animal and plant species are the most threatened, endangered species if not already extinct. Massive releases of greenhouse gases warm the planet very quickly and sustainably. This impact is massive on the state of biodiversity and the level of pollution of the Earth, making raise to higher degrees of alarm and fear of ecological failure of balance:
Slash-and-burn agriculture: Often known as a rotating cultivation technique in which trees are cut down and burned in order to clear land for temporary agriculture; the land is used until its productivity declines at which point a new plot is selected and the process repeats; this practice is sustainable while population levels are low and time is permitted for regrowth of natural vegetation; conversely, where these conditions do not exist, the practice can have disastrous consequences for the environment. IN The few green spots of Western Sahara, such practices do exist and greatly impact the environment and the people. People tend to burn and eradicate the trees against any law or common sense. Some poachers and lumberjacks use the wood made into charcoal to sell it in the city. This left many scarce areas in the desert without any long time existing trees especially the Talah tree (Acacia tree) known to grow in the desert. In addition, the Moroccan military has contributed to the extinction and depletion of many Sahara grown trees and herbs. They chop all woods to build fire and to deprive local Saharawi from using it for their own benefits. Some of them would inject the tree with bleach and other chemicals to kill it in few days, then come back to chop it and sell its wood to local bakeries and Turkish baths owners, mostly Moroccan settlers.
Soil degradation – damage to the land’s productive capacity because of poor agricultural practices such as the excessive use of pesticides or fertilizers, soil compaction from heavy equipment, or erosion of topsoil, eventually resulting in reduced ability to produce agricultural products. Many farmers, especially in Dakhla and and in Foum Elwad areas use excessive pesticides without caring to investigate the quality of the chemical substances. This is immensely affecting the soil and the land. Some do not even have the necessary education to deal with the land and its preservation.
Pollution -: It is mostly the contamination of a healthy environment by man-made waste. All cities and villages in Western Sahara have poor infrastructure. Most waste is poured into the neighboring rivers or the land surrounding the communities. This situation has been creating lots of waste management problems for the local communities in Western Sahara. Rivers are polluted, the underground water is polluted, the desert is contaminated with plastic bags and waste that is being spread by the wind. Flies and insects attack the local population frequently. Some of the diseases are spread faster among the locals. Animals are also infected by this phenomenon. The ocean is also being contaminated with all kind of waste especially plastic and the waste of the hundreds of boats in its waters. So far, there are no waste management plants in Western Sahara, and not even a recycling unit to help reduce the pollution and make use of the waste.
Poaching : This means the illegal killing of animals or fish, a great concern with respect to endangered or threatened species. Moroccan solders have contributed to the extinction of many wildlife species such as: antelopes, ostriches and birds…etc. Moroccan and European fishermen have also depleted the sea from most of the high-end known fish species. Moroccan government has sign a secret agreement with the Gulf princes and notables to come to the region to hunt against the will of Saharawis and without consulting them. These princes, mainly from Saudia Arabia and Qatar, have killed the wildlife in Western Sahara ad completely destroyed it.
Metallurgical plants – industries which specialize in the science, technology, and processing of metals; these plants produce highly concentrated and toxic wastes which can contribute to pollution of ground water and air when not properly disposed. In Western Sahara such industries are rare to find, but some exist on a smaller scale. These local factories do not respect the minimum requirement to preserve the environment. They conduct their business without any monitoring or control. The waste is usually thrown out in the streets or out in the desert without taking any precautions when it comes to hazardous material. Medical waste is also prevalent in the garbage thrown in the outskirts of the local cities. The good example to this would be the newly constructed thermal plant built by a German company west El-Aaiun city. Its waste from diesel would be thrown out in the Saguia Alhamra River and into the surrounding are. This has proven, in other places, to be totally destructive and very unfriendly to all elements of the environment and to the underground water.
Depletion of Groundwater – water sources found below the surface of the earth often in naturally occurring reservoirs in permeable rock strata; the source for wells and natural springs. In Dakhla city, south Western Sahara, Moroccan settlers own all the farms that grown corpses such as: cherry tomato and melon. These plantations and farms, except one owned by a Saharawi, are depleting the underground water as they use it for irrigation while locals are starving and thirsty. Moreover, the processing of the fish in Dakhla city requires water and ice that are poured, after the operation is completed, into the ocean. This killed many fish species and polluted the ocean water. I El-Aaiun city, there are many canned fish factories that do not respect the environment in many ways as they also pollute the ocean water and the underground water with all the waste produced after ending their daily operations.
Endangered species – a species that is threatened with extinction either by direct hunting or habitat destruction. Most birds and wild animals such as: the antelopes, the foxes, the greyhound…etc are on the way of extinction due to the malpractices and the unethical hunting procedure. The laws are not being enforced nor respected by both: the hunters and the authorities. There is a project in the area of Dakhla where some antelopes are being repopulated but still poachers are savagely killing them every now and then.
Effluents – waste materials, such as smoke, sewage, or industrial waste, which are released into the environment, subsequently polluting it. This is also another malpractice and is being used in Western Sahara mostly by factories where there is no respect for mother earth, especially in the area of the el-Aaiun´s port and in Dakhla city. In El-Aaiun, the local factories release their waste and smoke in total disregard of the environment and without any audit. In Dakhla, much Fridges and fish storage empty their waste and polluted used water out in the street, which releases nasty smell and sewage water outside their plant. This makes perfect fertile grounds for mosquitoes and flies to grow and reproduces in huge numbers.
Drift-net fishing – done with a net, miles in extent, that is generally anchored to a boat and left to float with the tide; often results in an over harvesting and waste of large populations of non-commercial marine species (by-catch) by its effect of “sweeping the ocean clean.” This is also a common practice in Western Sahara committed by the Moroccan settlers who flooded the region in masses from 1975 onwards. Most of them are into the fish business and are getting richer every day. They seem not to care about the fish specimen diversity or about the ecosystem. They only seem to care about the catch and how much money they can make out of it. The environment is the least of their worries.
Dredging – the practice of deepening an existing waterway; also, a technique used for collecting bottom-dwelling marine organisms (e.g., shellfish) or harvesting coral, often causing significant destruction of reef and ocean-floor ecosystems. This is now being done in Dakhla city where the environment is falling victim to the fishing industry lords. They became so greedy that what matters for them is how much profit they can make at the end of the day.
Deforestation – the destruction of vast areas of forest (e.g., unsustainable forestry practices, agricultural and range land clearing, and the over exploitation of wood products for use as fuel) without planting new growth. Commonly seen in Western Sahara, this has accelerated the densification and caused the extinction of many wildlife species. The Jdari Tree and the Talh tree are now very rare in Western Sahara due to the greed of the human mankind.
Desertification – the spread of desert-like conditions in arid or semi-arid areas, due to overgrazing, loss of agriculturally productive soils, or climate change. The north wind is always occurring the vast land of Western Sahara. This pushes the dunes to shift from one place to anther killing all small plants and herbs. The hot east wind makes the land dry and arid in most parts of Western Sahara. As the rain is rare, more desert is spreading across Western Sahara land. Most attempts to stop desertification failed and did not stop it.
The Berm: is a sand wall that may be viewed as the most potent symbol of repression and land polluted by landmines of all kinds. The 2,700 km long wall of sand splitting the territory in half. This berm was built in the 1980s to separate Moroccan forces in the west and the Polisario Front in the east; However in the process this is also caused many families to be stranded on either side of the wall. An estimated 9 million landmines also litter the desert around this separation structure, posing a significant risk to locals. Indeed, Western Sahara is perhaps ‘one of the most heavily contaminated territories in the world’.
Since Morocco controls the majority of the Western Sahara land, its government is responsible for enforcing the laws and policies in addition to safeguarding the environment. Moroccan government is ignoring all international treaties and is in violation of laws when it comes to the preservation of the environment in Western Sahara. Morocco is in defiance to the Agenda 21. Agenda 21, represented the culmination of two decades of focused attention, which began with the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held at Stockholm in 1972. Based on its conclusions, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) was created, to become the world’s leading environmental agency. By 1992, the link between environment and development, and the imperative need for sustainable development was seen and recognized worldwide.To ensure full support for the goals of Agenda 21, the General Assembly in 1992 established the Commission on Sustainable Development, as a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council.
The Earth Summit also led to the adoption of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (1992) and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa (1994). In 1994, a Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, held in Barbados, adopted a Programme of Action that set forth policies, actions and measures at all levels to promote sustainable development for these states.
In conclusion, Morocco does not care about Western Sahara people and the environment as much as it cares about how much money it can get out of it. It seems to us that The Moroccan regime wants the land and its resources without its people and with total disregard for their well-being.
Western Sahara has become very polluted. The bells are tolling and the environment alarm is now sound. Many environmental issues remain unresolved till a final political solution is found. The population seems to be unaware of these risks and dangers that put at stake the lives of hundred thousands lives of Saharawis at stake. WE have to make this land a safe place for our future generations.