Authorities in the self-declared republic of Somaliland on Monday banned the use of all types of plastic bags, information minister, Abdillahi Duale, told IRIN.
"The bags have not only become an environmental problem, but also an eyesore," he said on Tuesday from the Somaliland capital, Hargeysa.
The Somaliland cabinet, he added, made the decision to ban the bags, which had been nicknamed "the Hargeysa flower", following an assessment of the damage they caused to the environment. The ban marked the end of a 120-day grace period that the government had given to the public to get rid of their stocks.
The bags were mostly used to carry groceries and other goods. They were often discarded and litter most streets and landscapes across Somaliland. Many of them ended up being blown around and deposited on trees or shrubs, posing a danger to livestock because the animals that feed on the leaves in the shrubs often ingest the bags accidentally.
The Ministry of Trade and Industries announced the decision in a decree titled: "Banning importation, production and use of plastic bags in the country".
Duale said it would be accompanied by an awareness campaign to inform the public about the danger of plastic bags. "We will use both the print and broadcast media to reach as many people as possible," he added.
He said people should use reusable, environmental-friendly baskets and containers, such as sacks made of straws, reeds and sisal. "These are the kind of containers that our people traditionally used" before the arrival of the plastic bags, Duale said.
Duale said all the country's seaports, airports and other border points had been instructed to enforce the ban. "We are determined as a government to enforce this ban, no matter what," he said.
A week ago, researchers in Kenya recommended that thin plastic bags, widely used across the country for carrying shopping, be banned because they pollute the environment and are a potential health hazard.
In a report released during the 21-25 February meeting of the Governing Council of the UN Environment Programme in Nairobi, the researchers also recommended that taxes on the manufacture of thicker plastic bags be hiked to discourage their use.
Prof Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner and the Kenyan assistant minister for environment, has linked plastic bag litter with malaria. She said, the bags, once discarded, fill with rainwater, offering ideal breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes.