Citing initial reports, the UN Environment Programme spokesman Nick Nuttall on Friday that "there are indications that hazardous waste, radioactive waste, chemical waste and other substances [in containers] which have been dumped on the Somali coastline, were damaged by the tsunami".

 

United Nations officials said the deadly tidal waves, which originated off Indonesia on 26 December, possibly damaged the containers in northern Somalia and spilled the waste, causing it to spread, leading to diseases.

 

Nuttall said UN agencies working in northern Somalia - a country that has been wracked by anarchy since 1991 - reported symptoms of diseases.

 

"There are reports from villagers of a wide range of medical problems like mouth bleeds, abdominal haemorrhages, unusual skin disorders and breathing difficulties," Nuttall said.

 

Familiar symptoms

 

"There are reports from villagers of a wide range of medical problems like mouth bleeds, abdominal haemorrhages, unusual skin disorders and breathing difficulties"

Nick Nuttall,
UNEP spokesman

UN officials familiar with the situation say the diseases bear radiation sickness symptoms.

  

"UNEP is in discussions with [the Somali] government with a view to sending a full assessment mission to the country so that we can work out the magnitude of the problem," Nuttall said.

  

Somali authorities reported that nearly 300 people - a figure the humanitarian agencies dispute - were killed and thousands displaced by the tsunami waves.

  

Along other Indian Ocean shorelines, up to 290,000 people were killed.

  

In the late 1980s, European companies dumped waste such as uranium, lead, cadmium, mercury and other industrial toxins in northern Somalia, but the trend picked up rapidly after the violent ouster of Somali leader Muhammad Siad Barri in 1991, according to UN officials.