Found in the Attic: A Decade of Climate Data on Somalia

Young and old Somali rebels in 1991, after a month of civil war. (AP Photo)

Climate change isn’t just about rising sea levels threatening polar bears, ecological disasters can have severe economic and political impacts: Witness the Somalian civil war. The man whose research could help, Englishman Murray Watson, was abducted in southern Somalia in 2008, and hasn’t been heard from since. Laura Heaton has the story in Foreign Policy.

A few days after the abduction, Bennett-Jones started getting calls from a Somali man who spoke excellent English and claimed to be a negotiator for the kidnappers, whom the journalist by then believed to be members of al-Shabab. The man’s demands ranged from $2 million to $4 million for the ecologist’s safe return. Watson’s family couldn’t pay, his country wouldn’t, and the trail has been quiet ever since. No group has claimed his killing. No remains have ever been found.

For years after the kidnapping, the small cadre of environmentalists still working in Somalia had assumed that decades’ worth of scientific knowledge compiled by Watson had also been lost. Without vital land surveys that vanished during the civil war, it would be hard to determine precisely how or at what rate the country’s climate was changing — and therefore difficult to design measures that could limit the damage. But a recent discovery, made more than 4,000 miles away in Britain, has suddenly resurrected the possibility of continuing Watson’s environmental work. It has also revealed the extent to which his legacy may be intertwined with the fate of Somalia itself.

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