Sunday, September 11, 2011

NIGERIA: Dire pollution in Ogoniland but little action so far

9 September 2011

An August 2011 UN Environment Programme (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 metres. 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.

Insufficient response?

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.

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.

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