Today, August 4, 2012 marks exactly one year the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) delivered the report of its assessment of the environmental devastation in Ogoni land, to the Federal Government of Nigeria. Among other things, the report disclosed that:
1. The impact of oil on mangrove vegetation in Ogonilandvary from extreme stress to total destruction. In the most impacted areas, only the roots of the mangroves remains, with no stems or leaves. The roots are completely coated in oil, sometimes with a 1 cm or more thick layer of bituminous substance. The pollution has accumulated over a very long period, perhaps over decades.
1. 2. People in Nsisioken Ogale have been consuming water containing benzene 900
times above World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) guideline.
3. Acute health effects of exposure to petroleum are reasonably well understood: dermal exposure can lead to skin redness, oedema, dermatitis, rashes and blisters; inhalation exposure can lead to red, watery and itchy eyes, coughing, throat irritation, shortness of breath, headache and confusion; and ingestion of hydrocarbons can lead to nausea and diarrhoea [14, 15, 16]. In addition, environmental contamination associated with oil spills and its effect on livelihoods and general quality of life could reasonably be expected to cause stress among members of affected communities, and stress alone can adversely affect health
A year after, beyond setting up a committee to review the report, nothing much has been heard about implementing the UNEP report’s recommendations. Total inaction, from both the government and the oil companies continue to greet the shocking revelations contained in the report, making the Niger Delta the most oil-impacted tragedy in the whole world, with unprecedented social and economic consequences on the inhabitants of the region. The continuing destruction of mangrove forests, the extermination of aquatic life, the record high decline in fisheries and agricultural produce, the escalating oil theft through artisanal refining and ‘illegal bunkering”, and the resulting youth restiveness are some of the cogent reasons why action must be taken very urgently, to reverse and address the social, economic and cultural rights violations accompanying decades of oil exploration and production in the Delta.
A last minute attempt by the Federal Government to establish the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), without adequate consultation with oil-producing communities, is perceived as a face-saving, and knee-jerk attempt to cover up one year of inaction on the UNEP report. Perhaps most telling is that a variety of the clean-up and corrective measures outlined in the report require very minimal resources to implement, but yet, action tarries. For instance, the report directs the Federal Government to mark and inform Ogoni people of all contaminated drinking water wells where hydro carbons were detected. This includes posting signs around all sites with “contamination exceeding intervention values”. This has not been done till date, while operational, bunkering pollution and contamination of land and water sources linger unabatedly.
The embarrassing failure to execute such simple measures, are not only symptomatic of the absence of political will, but also reflective of the historical inaction, and official insensitivity to the rapidly deteriorating environmental conditions in the Delta, despite reaping huge revenue earnings from the region’s resources.
As communities, civil society groups and policymakers converge in Abuja today, to discuss ways of fast-tracking the implementation of the UNEP report, the quest for environmental justice in Ogoniland and the Niger Delta as a whole, will not be subdued until appropriate action is taken to reverse the continuous neglect of the region both by the government and the oil companies.
Culled from Spaces for Change’s presentation delivered at a Stakeholders Conference to mark one year of the UNEP report. Spaces for Change discussed the impacts of environmental devastation on Ogoni women and the youth, as well as proffered strategies for fast-tracking the implementation of the UNEP report. In addition to explaining the linkages between the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and the UNEP report, the presentation demonstrated why both documents are potent tools for demanding ecological justice in Ogoniland, and the Niger Delta in general.