The toxic nexus of environmental damage, disregard for the rule of law and human rights violations is nowhere more evident than in the Niger Delta.
“Despite longstanding laws against gas flaring – the burning of natural gas during oil extraction – shifting deadlines to end the practice, the activity continues, with serious health consequences for people living nearby,” the UN reports:
In the Niger Delta, where most of the flaring takes places, residents living near gas flares complain of respiratory problems, skin rashes and eye irritations, as well as damage to agriculture due to acid rain.
They are also forced to live with constant noise, heat and light that can lead to sleep deprivation which can degenerate into systemic insomnia. Since flaring involves carbon dioxide and sulphur outputs, in the longer term the heart and lungs can be affected leading to bronchitis, silicosis, sulphur poisoning of the blood, and cardiac complications, said a Port Harcourt doctor, Nabbs Imegwu.
“Extreme long-term exposure can predispose one to, or cause, skin cancer,” he added.
His fears are validated by a disturbing but insightful report by Environmental Rights Action (ERA), the Nigerian chapter of Friends of the Earth International, which notes that flaring releases “nitrogen oxides and other substances such as benzene, toluene [and] xylene … which are known to cause cancers.”
These pollutants can affect communities within 30km of the flares, the report says.
Civil society groups this week called on state and federal governments to secure compensation for communities affected by oil spillage, another leading cause of environmental degradation.
The UN estimates that it will cost $1bn and take 30 years to clean up spills in the delta.
“The widespread pollution of Ogoniland does not come as a surprise,” said ERA director Nnimmo Bassey, “because the manifestation is physical and people have been living in that putrid situation for decades now.”
Environmental security will only be safeguarded by “policies that encourage participatory democracy and which allow local communities to have direct democratic control over decisions that affect their lands, forests, water, cultures and food sovereignty,” the ERA report concludes.
Clearly, it’s not only democracy that’s under fire in the Niger Delta.
The ERA report was funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.