In the late fifties, the answer just below the question of the heading of this paper amused many people in Awdal and probably many more in their neighborhood. To them, the response to the question was hilarious and made them laugh but thanks to ignorance….a bliss.
However, little did they know of the enormous damage toxins such as pesticides can do to humans and/or their livestock if and when they (pesticides) end up in the environment and eventually in their bodies causing a multitude of health problems …including cancer and death. And shockingly, many pesticides do not decompose. On the contrary, they remain intact for years and through the food and drinks you take daily, can keep poising you for decades if not for centuries.
In creation, most materials naturally decompose or try to do so. In other words, nature refuses the permanence of materials in their form. On the contrary, it tries to split them so that they become tiny particles that can be assimilated into the environment though results are more evident in gases and liquids (their particles are far apart and easily escape into the air because there is less force holding them together) than solids. And believe it or not even solids including the hardest keep disintegrating and may eventually disappear changing to microscopic particles and in the process becoming part of the soil though the process takes much longer.
For instance, if you throw away organic wastes (organics are those items that are alive or once lived), they decompose… that is they split up into their basic components; so, the banana peels you through away for instance splits into its basic ingredients and that includes water, cellulose, sugar although in different form, etc. And one reason why materials decompose is that their present particles are more compact and nature tries to disperse them. That is, it tries to force particles to attain their state of highest scatter. That is why the walls of your home eventually crumble because its bricks are more compact but cannot remain so forever and would rather become sand particles as before. By the same token, our body is disintegrating after initial growth which is a temporary one. And that is one of the reasons we age after all, apart from the soul, which only Lord knows, our body is made up from the soil too!
On the other hand, microbes (microorganisms) utilize organics as food releasing carbon dioxide, water, etc. turning them to new components that are environmentally friendlier. That is part of the perpetuity of nature. In nature, many things come in cycles …where substance A for instance, becomes substance B and substance B becomes substance C and then substance C goes back to substance A. And a typical proof is the nitrogen cycle, the sulfur cycle and so on and so forth.
The nitrogen cycle for instance, starts with free inert nitrogen gas (inert means unable to react with anything) that makes 78% of the air when oxygen makes only 21% though crowded areas such as cities have far less oxygen! And during abnormal conditions such as during volcanic eruptions or lightening thunderstorms, nitrogen in the air is forced to react with oxygen and both change form. And it is this new form of nitrogen that is utilized by plants for food eventually becoming part of plant cells and then part of the human/animal body. After death however, cells decompose and one of its new products is nitrogen which comes back to the air as free nitrogen thanks to the microbes that decompose dead bodies. That is the cycle of nitrogen and true there are similar other cycles.
So, had wastes remained unchanged or had microbes never been able to use them for food changing them into friendlier particles, the whole earth would be inundated with wastes and dead bodies including those of plants and animals would be scattered over everywhere always intact. Consequently, our food would be laced with toxins that could kill us in droves. That is how nature cleans itself thanks to the natural laws in creation!
Unfortunately, artificially made organics like man-made pesticides may not or do not decompose at all. Rather they remain in the environment intact for decades. One reason is because neither the microbes that do the miracle of decomposition nor the oxygen which is another miraculous element that helps materials to decompose can attack them (pesticides). Hence they (pesticides) may remain in the environment unchanged for centuries. That is why certain pesticides such as DDT are banned from use forever! But remember the word pesticide has two parts (pest) which means an insect that does the damage to living things…and the suffix cide which means kill… (so, suicide means killing self, homicide means killing someone and insecticide means killing an insect and a pesticide means killing a pest), etc.
Sorry, however, once a pesticide is in the human, plant or animal body, it dissolves in the fatty tissues attaching itself there and eventually blocking nutrition to a whole part of the body, then finally destroying it (a Chinese traditional medication believes that if you have a pain in some part of your body, one reason is, nutrition may not be getting there because it is blocked as there is no blood circulation there). And there is a lot of scientific sense in this. So, you have a cancerous out growth in your body that denies it (body) to heal because the body does not get the nutrition it needs as that dead part is not letting food to go there to be assimilated. But finally, that same dead part spreads to other cells and one after the other, cells die taking down with them the whole organ and resulting death!
But my dear readers, did you know that to decompose, wastes compete with other living things for oxygen? And did you know that the more wastes in your environment, the less oxygen there and the more chances that you are breathing toxins? And did you know that when breathing polluted air, your respiratory system overworks as it tries to give enough oxygen to your lungs but with it is taking more toxins? And did you know that people who live in cities have a higher chance of contracting respiratory diseases than those in the rural areas? But did you also know that when a pollutant in the air such as pesticides,(through water, food or air), get into your body, they do more damage than do those that can easily decompose?
With all these as our background let me take to the story that is the topic of the discussion here. The story took place in Dilla, Awdal, during the British rule.
In colonial days, the literacy rate of the Somalis was very low as there were no universities, colleges or other institutions of higher learning. In fact, few people in the country could read and write let alone express their views in any written media if there were any. And the only available medium (Radio Hargeisa) for information sharing, was not accessible to the public. So, all one could know was what came to him/her through stories which usually was spread by word of mouth. That is one reason why Somalis are known as the oral society.
So, in the mid fifties, there was a government pesticide storage facility near Dilla, home of the first co-education in the whole country. In that storage, there were tremendous amounts of pesticide chemicals. And because pesticides are intentionally laced with special flavors that induce salivation because of their sweet odors that can be smelt from miles away, locust swamps are attracted to them invading the hilly greenery as well as the agriculture rich valleys of Dilla County, devastating the whole region by wiping out everything in their path in minutes.
But while people at the time did not know the negative health impact of pesticides stored in their backyard, they were confused and were in fact suspicious about the intentions of the British authorities and asked themselves: “Why do locust swamps that are miles away always get attracted toward our neighborhood? And why do they come from every direction and converge on our area devouring everything there including of course the chemical, voraciously consuming the whole dry cellulose-looking-like powder in minutes and eventually dying there leaving behind only heaps of the dead?”
Their answer to their doubts was “a government conspiracy” so that they (people) lose their whole agricultural produce, their greenery and their livestock all of which were their basic livelihoods. Then they (people) could be put in refugee camps, become dependents forever and possibly be sold as slaves.
Amazingly however, that is in direct contrast to what is happening in this country today because had an organization from the West set up a refugee camp here NOW, people would unreservedly come in droves and fight tooth and nail to be accepted as refugees despite its (refugee) known huge disadvantages.
So, concluding that, Dilla community decided to do one thing; “put the whole chemical storage facility on fire” and if asked, confess the crime come what may! That is what happened and is the story behind the well-known statement of “annagaa gubney gubina doona or we put the chemical on fire and will always do it!” which amused many in those days and possibly amuses many today thanks to ignorance.
And while the British Administration of the day did not immediately punish Dilla communities for their actions, its (British) afterward reactions proved otherwise as in the following months, scores of Dilla elders were apprehended and sent to Mandera Central Prison and most were handed jail terms of over five years.
Despite that, reprisals between the two did not end there but took a different turn. So, unable to confront it (British Administration) directly, Dilla elders who were spared from Mandera Prison sentence decided to seek refugee status from Haile Selasse government of Ethiopia accusing the British Administration of injustice. Fortunately, they were welcomed and were settled in the Harorays plains near Jigjiga, Ethiopia. That is how reer Dilla became the first and only community ever to seek safe haven from the British rule during the British Administration of Somaliland.
Today, three scores and more years later, a World Health Organization study of the impact pesticides have on human and livestock health or their negative effect on the environment, firmly supports their devastating effects.
That study, a copy of which I just got from WHO local office was carried out on the old pesticide campsite near Hargeisa, shows that a multitude of pesticides many banned from use years ago, were abandoned by the Locust Control unit of the UN there. And while little human/livestock health impact assessment was carried out on that to date, there are plenty of reasons to do so now for anyone who is willing to explore that.
So, in short, had Dilla community in the fifties remained silent to the hazards in its backyard, had it yielded to the Administration pressures, all its resources (water and other livelihoods) would forever be laced with hazardous leaks from the killer pesticides that would always be just in their homes, villages and farms.
And while as the author of this piece, I confess that people knew nothing about the deadly and omnipotent effects of the toxins that was in hand at the time, at least they (community) understood that there was a problem there. And certainly one does not need to be a rocket scientist to understand, address and respond to a tickling and persistent problem in his/her backyard. So, I must congratulate that community for its bold stance and determination to stand up for its rights. And today, I dare say thumbs up for Dilla’s unyielding courage to take the law into their hands in those days by destroying the whole pesticide storage facility there once and for all or else many including me would probably be wobbling because of the killer pesticide effects!