Somaliland’s scorpion man saving precious flora and fauna

Ahmed Ibrahim Awale developed his passion for the environment during his childhood in the 1950s. “I grew up as a nomad on the slopes of the Gaan Libah mountain in what was then the British protectorate of Somaliland,” he says. “I was fascinated by the extraordinary biodiversity, which has declined unimaginably over the years due to climate change and reckless land use.”

After studying agriculture and environmental science at the Somali National University, Mr Awale dedicated his life to protecting the environment and saving unique Somali species from extinction. He fast became an authority on local flora and fauna, cataloguing them in books and scientific papers.

In 2014 he came across large clumps of aloe plants with an unusual red colour. It turns out he had discovered a new species, which in 2019 was named aloe sanguinalis. In 2020 his name was given to a new species of Somali scorpion, pandinurus awalei.

Mr Awale says droughts, floods and cyclones have become more frequent and intense, largely due to climate change. These have brought new diseases to Somaliland and forced nomads to give up their way of life. They have led to forest fires, including a huge blaze which destroyed parts of the Gaacidh forest near the Daallo mountains in July this year.

He is a founder of Candlelight and the Somaliland Biodiversity Foundation which focus on studying the environment, conservation and spreading awareness. Candlelight has established environmental clubs in schools, planted trees and distributed seedlings. It encourages people to keep bees instead of burning trees for charcoal.

Mr Awale is campaigning for protected areas to be established in different ecological zones of Somaliland. He believes this is the only way to save the territory’s 3,000 species of plants, 700 of which are endemic.

“People know the environment is changing because they depend on it so closely to survive,” he says. “Even though Somaliland contributes almost nothing to climate change, we are at its sharp end. My job is to help the community adapt to the damage it causes.”

Mr Awale is frustrated that this year Candlelight has spent 70% of its budget on drought relief rather than protecting the environment, which is its core purpose.

He believes little will come out of COP 2022. “As usual I expect there will be lots of emotional discussions. Then people will go home and nothing will change in places like Somaliland.”

About Bilan Media

Bilan Media is Somalia’s first all-women media house, set up by UNDP and hosted by Dalsan Media Group in Mogadishu.

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