Organisations, including Friends of the Earth Netherlands and Amnesty International, are calling on Dutch-based oil giant Shell to begin cleaning up the oil pollution in Nigeria as soon as possible. A long-awaited United Nations report concludes that the pollution is far worse than was thought.
Nigeria’s Niger Delta region has for 50 years suffered severe pollution as a direct result of the drilling for oil. The UN says Shell and the Nigerian government are to blame for the problem going on for so long.
The report indicates that the clean-up operation, the biggest ever, could take decades. Friends of the Earth Netherlands has for years been warning of the disastrous situation in the Niger Delta. Despite this, its director, Hans Berkhuizen, points out that the report’s conclusions still came as a surprise.
“We knew it was bad, but even we didn’t realise it could be this terrible. The UN report concludes that the pollution is huge, that the measures taken by Shell have been inadequate. They’ve launched a number of clean-up operations which have now been shown to have been ineffective.”
Shell counters that most of the oil leaks in Nigeria have been caused by sabotage or theft. Local activists blow up pipelines and local people siphon off oil for their own use, increasing the pollution in the process. Amnesty International admits this does happen, but the organisation’s Marleen van Ruijven argues that this does not excuse Shell from its responsibility to deal with the problem.
“The consequence of the sabotage is that the company is no longer liable to compensate the local population. But, under Nigerian law, in cases of major oil leaks, the company is always responsible for cleaning up the damage, and that hasn’t occurred in most cases.”
The UN says the effects of the pollution in Ogoni Land, a region of about 1,000 square kilometres in southeastern Nigeria, have been enormous. Drinking water is seriously polluted and fishermen can no longer live form their catches. The contamination in many places reaches metres into the ground. Many people have their whole lives long experienced problems resulting from the damage.
Both Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth Netherlands say that, now the UN report has been published, Shell can no longer put off accepting its responsibilities. Mr Berkhuizen:
“That means setting up a fund, with money from the Nigerian government but more especially from Shell, and getting down to work as quickly as possible. Sound contracts should be agreed with organisations which can clean up the region, starting with the land and later working on the surface and ground water.”