PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria
An August 2011 UN Environment Program (UNEP) study has found hazardous levels of pollution in Ogoniland in southern Nigeria's Niger Delta, lending credence to claims by locals of environmental damage, health problems and lost livelihoods as a result of 50 years of oil operations in the area.
The UNEP report found oil spills occur with "alarming regularity" and residents had been exposed to petroleum hydrocarbons in air, water and soil. Some 28 wells across 10 communities were found to be contaminated, and in one community, Nisisioken Ogale, water was being drunk from wells containing 900 times the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended level of benzene, a carcinogen.
Other findings include destruction of fish habitats - including mangroves - and soil contamination found at depths of up to five meters. It is estimated a clean-up operation will take up to 30 years to return contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and ecosystems back to full health.
A history of oil spills and pollution has created tensions in the region. Citizens have also complained that they have not benefited from the oil wealth in the area.
Though oil has not been produced in Ogoniland since'93, infrastructure remains, including active oil pipelines that cross the area. Sabotage and bunkering has added to spills in the Niger Delta.
The UNEP report, carried out at the request of the government, said health symptoms were not recorded in sufficient detail to be conclusively attributed to pollution, but for locals in Bodo the connection is clear: The community suffered two major oil spills in 2008 from pipes operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), which is a joint venture with the Nigerian National Petroleum Company, Shell International, Elf and Agip.
A man who lives close to the spill, who only gave his name as Nebachi, told IRIN his whole family was sick. "Our source of drinking water is the well. By the time we fetch water from the well, we see oil on it and that is what we drink," he said. "We breathe the polluted air. In fact as I am talking with you now, I have chest pain… Everybody in my house is sick."
Other residents told IRIN they now suffered burning sensations in their eyes at night, respiratory problems, frequent rashes and bloody stools.
Comfort Amadi, the chief nursing officer at Bodo General Hospital, told IRIN common problems believed to be caused by pollution were diarrhea and respiratory infections. She added: "We often have cases of pregnant women having miscarriages. Due to the oil spillage, people also suffer from malaria as a result of the stagnant water around."
Babiana Uporo, a nursing officer at the hospital, agreed diarrhea and respiratory infections were common. "The whole place is polluted and filled with smoke [from gas flares]."
Aster van Kregten, a researcher on Nigeria with Amnesty International, said in interviews with Bodo residents, people told her "they have problems [such as] rashes, headaches and breathing problems."
Joanna Tempowski, a WHO scientist, said all these symptoms, aside from miscarriages, "are consistent with exposure to hydrocarbons and their combustion products". She said further investigation would be necessary to determine if the reported miscarriages could be attributed to pollution.
Though both Shell and the Nigerian government have accepted the recommendations of the report - including establishing a US$1 billion fund for the clean-up and addressing issues caused by the pollution - very little is clear about what specific action will be taken, or when.
The report contained emergency recommendations around warning people about contamination, supplying drinking water to families with only access to contaminated sources, and monitoring the health of people in Nisisioken Ogale. Some progress has been made here: Residents have been warned about contaminated water sources and emergency drinking water has been trucked in to some of the most deeply affected communities by the state government.
But Chris Newsom from the Port Harcourt office of NGO Stakeholder Democracy Network said the response is only part of what is needed for such a dire situation. "If those levels of pollution were found in the US, Congressmen would be having hysterics and demanding a comprehensive set of immediate responses," he said.
Newsom pointed out that UNEP had informed the Nigerian government in December 2010 of the dangerously high levels of contamination in drinking water in Nisisioken Ogale, but that no action was taken until the report was released.
Amnesty International's van Kregten said: "You would expect authorities to do more in terms of emergency measures." Both Van Kregten and Jeremiah Leela, a senior health worker in Bodo, told IRIN they would like to see the authorities investigate health impacts more widely.
The Nigerian government has formed a committee to look at the recommendations. However, despite pressure from Ogoni elders in early September, the committee is still considering its response and no decisions have been announced.
A spokesperson for Shell said: "SPDC will support the [Nigerian] government to implement emergency measures as soon as possible," but was also unable to give any details of action.
"This report should be used to put pressure on the government and oil companies to clean up and compensate people harmed by these spills," said Eric Guttschuss, a researcher on Nigeria with Human Rights Watch.
Implementing the recommendations of the report and cleaning up the spills will, however, only assist Ogoniland - a small part of the oil-rich Niger Delta - while it is suspected pollution extends much further. "The Ogoni oil spills are only the tip of the iceberg; there have been serious spills across the Niger Delta for decades," Newsom said. Ogoniland covers just 1,000 of the Niger Delta's 70,000 sq/km.
"Since the terrain, operator and regulators are similar in other parts of the Niger Delta, it is a reasonable assumption to make that there are similar issues in other parts of the Niger Delta," said a UNEP spokesperson.
Weak regulatory environment
Poor industry practice and the weak regulatory environment are part of the problem.
While a spokesperson for Shell said "SPDC has always cleaned up spills from its facilities no matter what the cause," the UNEP report found 10 of the 15 sites investigated which Shell claimed were remediated were found to contain pollution exceeding SPDC and government standards. "SPDC's own procedures have not been applied, creating public safety issues," the report said.
In response, Shell's spokesperson would only say they were "looking very closely at the report".
The government largely relies on the word of oil companies, which say they clean up spills, but it is apparent from the report that this does not always happen, Guttschuss said, pointing out that the Nigerian government is a majority partner in joint ventures with many of these oil companies, including Shell, and the regulatory environment is very weak.
According to Van Kregten, while oil companies frequently blame oil spills on deliberate sabotage, it is impossible to verify this.
- Provided by Integrated Regional Information Networks.
- Ian Williams' Lost 9/11 Chronicle
- Remembering the Day That Changed Us
- Decade After the Terror, We Move Forward
- 10 Years After 9/11 NATO's Future Remains Uncertain
- 9/11 and the Successful War
- Reasons to Remember 9-11
- 9/11 Unity Is Just a Memory
- Did 9/11 Weaken or Strengthen the United States?
- Extremists: Power-Mad Brothers Under the Skin
- Myth and Reality After 9/11
- Captives to the Logic of Violence
- Bin Laden's Unintended Legacy: Revealing True American Colors
- Durban III Promises Wave of Islamophobia
- Germany: The Beleaguered European Island
- Greece Unveils New Measures to Prevent Default
- Merkel: Europe Must Avoid 'Uncontrolled' Greek Default
- Kosovo an Obstacle to Serbia's EU Bid
- The Eurozone Debt Crisis: Why the IMF Proposal is Flawed
- Italy: An Economy in Denial
- Should We Break Up Britain's Banks?
- Innovation and Foreign Ownership: New Evidence from Spain
- The Crisis of Europe and European Nationalism
- The South China Sea Conundrum
- Is China Heading for Collapse
- China Forced to Temper Mercenary Approach to International Trade
- China Looking To Middle East For More Oil
- China's Wealthiest Unfazed by Global Turmoil
- Latin America's Blind Love With China May Be Over
- Drug War Madness
- Brazil's Really Big Problem
- Ex-Border Security Chief Calls Fence a Dumb Idea
- Argentina: Funding for a Cause
- Syrian Rights Activist Said Attacked in Prison
- Qatar Moves to Reach Food Sustainability
- Israel - Turkey Tensions Here to Stay Diplomat Warns
- Iran Vows Retaliation in Case of Any 'Preventive Attack'
- Iran Has Much to Lose if Syria's Assad Falls
- Saudis: 'We're Killing Too Many Civilians in Yemen? Then Give Us Drones'
- 100 Hamas Members Arrested Just Before UN Vote for Palestinian Statehood
- West Bank Economy Slows as Aid Drops and Statehood Jitters Grow
- For Hamas Silence on Palestinian Statehood Is Golden
- Gaddafi Insists He is Still in Libya
- The Iraq War Isn't Over
- Insurgents Take Over Key Somali Border Town
- Government Soldier Kills 10 at Mogadishu Refugee Camp
- Dire Pollution in Ogoniland But Little Action So Far
- Afghanistan: Patchy Progress on Education
- Kashmir Police Question 3 in Delhi Bombing
- Indian Democracy Gets a Wake-Up Call
- India: No Counter-Revolution Please
- Australia - Outsourcing Asia's Refugees: A Fair Trade?
- BC Estimates $2.3 Billion Cost To Revert To Provincial Sales Tax
- 9/11 Anniversary Subdued in Many Areas
- Al-Qaeda Lost the Battle Long Ago
- 10 Years of 9/11 Wars is Enough
- Why Al Qaeda is Unlikely to Execute Another 9/11
- One Thing Steve Jobs Couldn't Change: Our Mortality
- What I Did (and Didn't Do) on My Summer Vacation
- 9/11 in Retrospect: Bush's Grand Strategy, Reconsidered
- War Costs Greater Than Acknowledged and Continuing to Climb
- China, the United States, and Global Order
- Palestine Goes to the UN
- Europe's Palestine Problem
- Turkey-Israel: What's next?
- Turkey's Akyol, An Apostle Of The Third Way
- Will Oil Drown the Arab Spring?
- Al Qaeda's Challenge
- Libya's 'Precarious' Transition Ahead
- 7 Challenges for Post-Qadhafi Libya
- To the Shores of Tripoli
- Victory in Tripoli. Bleakness Elsewhere
- Egypt: The Unbreakable Muslim Brotherhood
- Commanding Democracy in Egypt
- Bahrain Stumbles on Road to Recovery
- Syria's Al-Assad Gets the Picture as Satire Comes to YouTube
- Kurds Unite Amid Onslaught
- Former Israeli Army Chief Says Talk to Hamas
- For Russia New Middle East will be Tough Arms Market
- Arab Spring Still Fails to Deliver on Human Rights
- The Hype and the Reality of China's Economic Rise
- A New Kind of Korea: Building Trust Between Seoul and Pyongyang
- Kim Jong Il's Visit to Russia: Just More Mixed Messages?
- North Korea Accuses South Korea of Plotting to Destroy Its Socialist System
- South Korea Suicide Rate Doubles in 10 Years
- Tokyo's Transformation: How Japan Is Changing
- Credit Suisse Downgrades Forecast for Philippine Economic Growth
- Mexico and the United States: Surgical Strikes in the Drug Wars
- Despite Victory, Argentine Leader Faces Hard Choices
- Chilean 'Model' Is Shaken, but Very Much Alive
- Student Protests May Lead to a Better Chile
- Winds of Change: Uruguay's Sustainable Energy Plans
- Leaving Afghanistan to the Afghans
- Balkan Countries Work To Round Up Privately Held Weapons
- Former Iceland Prime Minister On Trial Over Banking Sector Collapse
- Germany's Rail Set to Run on 100 Percent Renewable Energy
- Divvying up South Sudan
- Somalia Seeks More Troops Against Al-Shabaab
- 20,000 Flee Blue Nile Clashes
- Climate of Fear Ahead of Gambia Presidential Elections
- Hungry Kenyan Families Sending Children Out to Beg
- Somali Border Town Feels the Refugee Pressure
- Cholera Soars in Lake Chad Basin Countries
- Somali Pirates Grow More Daring
- Two Million Hit By Floods in Pakistan's Sindh Province
- Global Health: Meaty Concerns
- Global Health: A Seminal Moment?
- Human Trafficking: The Wound That Shames Our Present
- How New Atrocity-Prevention Steps Can Work
- 9/11 Anniversary: Rethink Needed
- 9/11 Anniversary: From Empire to Decline
- 9/11 Anniversary: Scanning Bodies, Stripping Rights?
- Assassination as Foreign Policy
- Eurozone Manufacturing Slowing
- European Union Spending Cuts and Tax Hikes Hurt GDP Growth
- Who's Worse Off: Europe or the United States?
- Germany: German Tiger or European Growth Engine?
- Greece Forecasts Economic Contraction to be Worse than Expected
- Collateral Deals will Have Negative Impact on Greece
- Spain Announces Temporary Tax Cut to Stimulate New House Sales
- Eastern Mediterranean Olive Oil Producers Seek Markets in Far East
- High North: The New Frontier
- The Politics of the London Riots
- Young Westerners -- Deprived or Decadent?
- Explanations and Excuses for English Riots
- Many British Households See Steeper Rise in Debt
- Young Turks Returning Home to Chase Economic Dreams
- The Pain in Spain
- Multiculturalism and Dutch Political Culture
- Macedonia Eyes Its Future in Antiquity
- The Saudi Counterrevolution
- Libya Threatens to Become Terrorist Arms Depot
- Libya: Protection Challenge For The Opposition
- Libya After Gadhafi: Transitioning from Rebellion to Rule
- Why Are Some Progressives Gloating over Libya?
- Egypt's Reluctant Rulers
- Fear and Blogging in the Arab world
- Middle East: The Future of Women
- Middle East: Bread and Dignity
- Middle East: Palestine Towards Statehood
- Israeli - Arab Crisis Approaching
- The Upcoming Palestinian Uprising
- Israeli Settlements Keep Middle East Unsettled
- Syrian Opposition Tries to Unite
- Assad Rejects International Calls to Resign
- Obama Calls for Syrian President Assad to Step Down
- Cranking up Pressure on Syria
- Violence in Iraq Raises Questions About American Withdrawal
- Egypt's Brotherhood Declares War on the Bikini
- Labor Pains in Saudi Arabia as Hiring Deadline Nears
- Gulf Markets Worry About Oil Outlook
- Jordanian King Promises Reform to Skeptical Public
- China and the United States' Debt
- China's New Aircraft Carrier Bolsters Its Regional Reach
- China Outpaces United States in PC Market
- Moody's Downgrades Japan Credit Rating Over Deficit Concerns
- Kim Jong-Il Pushes China for New Nuclear Talks
- North Korea's Rare Pledge to Abandon Nuclear Activities
- Indonesia: Pluralism vs Vigilantism
- South Sudan: Labor Pains
- Somalia: Pro-government Rally Held in Mogadishu
- Kenya: 'Perfect Storm' Brewing Among Urban Poor
- Latin America's Security Dilemma
- A President-for-Life in Argentina? Not Likely
- There's Hope for Mexico and Central America
- Chile: The Fight to Make Education a Guaranteed Right
- Death of Layton Poses Challenge for NDP Interim Leader
- Global Economic Downturn: A Crisis of Political Economy
- Crisis of Confidence: Debt Debate Erodes US Global Standing
- United States Debt Downgrade Won't Have Much Short-Term Effect on Foreign Policy
- The Empathy Deficit
- Stiglitz Upbeat About China and Latin America
- China Trade Surplus Rises
- China Sees Inflation Rate Hit 6.5%
- Latin America Not Immune to U.S. Debt Deal
- Is Japan Now a Good Bet?
- Is Germany the New Safe Haven?
- Islam and Arab Political Change
- Iran Reshaping Persian Gulf Politics
- Diplomatic Pressure on Al-Assad Gaining Momentum
- Arab Nations Join Call For Al Assad To Stop Civilian Attacks
- Bahrain and Kuwait recall Syria envoys
- Clinton Says Syrian Government has Lost Legitimacy
- September Looms Large in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
- Israel's Growing Wealth Gap Fuels Economic Anger
- Israel and Cyprus Forging Ahead on Gas Bonanza
- Major Israeli Defense Merger Dropped
- Israel Approves 1,600 Settler Homes in East Jerusalem
- Mini UAV Chopper For Urban Warfare Revealed
- Roman-era Sword Uncovered in Ancient Ditch in Jerusalem
- Hamas: Palestinian Authority is Clamping Down On Our Preachers
- Warnings of 'Somalization' And All Out Civil War in Yemen
- Missing Out on Vital Medicines Because of Economic Crisis
- Jordanians Lash Out Against Planned Nuclear Reactor
- Jordanian Mosque Named After Jesus
- Troop Withdrawal Rests on Decision From Iraq
- Somali Forces and African Union Peacekeepers Gradually Expand Control In Mogadishu
- Somali President: Combat Operations Against Al-Shabaab Will Continue
- Al-Shabab Pullout: The Beginning Of The End in Somalia?
- Africa: Tough Choices As Food Prices Continue To Rise
- Nigeria: Jail Threat for Polio Vaccination Refuseniks
- Congo: Implement Anti-Discrimination Law, Urge Indigenous Peoples
- Congo: High-Tech Measures To Curb Illegal Fishing In Congo
- Raw Sewage Kills in Madagascar
- Tanzania: Violence Against Children Rampant
- Maternal Deaths Quadruple In South Africa
- United States and Pakistan Navigate New Tensions in Fraught Relationship
- Pakistan's Forgotten 2005 Quake Victims Still Need Help
- China Announces Sea Trial Of Its First Aircraft Carrier
- Indonesia's Global Significance
- Seoul Blasts Pyongyang For Fabricating Shelling Incident
- North Korea Planned Assassination of South Korean Defense Minister
- Calls For End To Torture and Extrajudicial Killings By Bangladeshi Police
- Muslim Rebels Seek Substate In Philippines
- DOJ Places Former Philippine President On Immigration Watchlist
- Britain Sticks With Austerity Plan
- Cameron Announces Crackdown On Facemasks
- Norway: The Sky Is Weeping
- Norway Attacks a Tragic Result of Failed Immigration Policies
- Norway: Blaming the Muslims
- Norway: Breivik's Real Enemy: Himself
- Brazil Joins Race for Globalized Students
- OAS Is a Basket Case - but a Needed One
Available at Amazon.com:
Copyright 2011, AHN - All Rights Reserved