(S)Hell In The Niger Delta: Satellite Images Document Oil Spills

Bodo Nigeria Before-After

Right: (4 December 2006): A false-color image of the waterways around Bodo. Healthy vegetation appears bright red. Left: (26 January 2009): This image, taken during the second oil spill in Bodo, shows vegetation death concentrated mainly near the river and its tributaries. (c) 2011 GeoEye and Digital Globe (Produced by AAAS).

Newly released satellite images visualize the devastating impact of the 2008 oil spills in Bodo, Nigeria, part of a pattern of destruction by oil companies in the region.

The images from 2006, 2009 and 2011 document the destruction of large swathes of vegetation near Bodo’s riverbanks. The true and false-color satellite images show rainbow slicks in the water ways, discoloration of the intertidal zone and vegetation death around Bodo. Three years after the oil spills, the pollution is still visible in the images.

We have previously used remote sensing to document the impact of the extractive industries on communities in the Niger Delta by monitoring harmful gas flaring in the region. It is the first time we used satellite images to provide evidence of the impact of oil spills on ecosystems and communities.

The images prove the poisoning of the earth by these oil spills through visual documentation of extensive and long-lasting vegetation death near Bodo, as well as widespread oil slicks in the waterways. While we have on-the-ground access to Bodo, the satellite images supplement witness testimonies and local sampling by giving a comprehensive bird’s eye view of the extent of the damage.

50 bags of food for a disastrous oil spill

Two major oil spills in the Niger Delta in 2008, which gushed for weeks before they were stopped, have devastated the lives of tens of thousands of people, destroying livelihoods, undermining access to food and clean water and putting health at risk. Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) released a new report, which demands that Shell oil pay $1 billion to begin to clean up the pollution. Shell, which recently reported profits of $7.2 billion for July-September, initially offered the Bodo community just 50 bags of rice, beans, sugar and tomatoes as relief for the disaster.

The 50-page report, The True Tragedy: Delays and Failures in Tackling Oil Spills in the Niger Delta, examines the widespread pollution and devastation caused by the oil spills in Bodo, Ogoniland, in 2008, neither of which have been cleaned up.

After trying for years to secure clean up and proper compensation from Shell, the Bodo community took their fight for justice to the U.K. courts earlier this year. The court action is ongoing, but has brought a measure of hope that the situation at Bodo may be resolved.

We keep our Eyes on Nigeria

The satellite images used in the report are easily accessible through our Eyes on Nigeria website. Eyes on Nigeria is a project from the organization’s groundbreaking Science for Human Rights Program, which employs new monitoring tools and technologies to expose and visualize human rights abuses and situations in which human rights are at risk throughout Nigeria, including through monitoring of harmful gas flaring and oils spills in the Niger Delta region.

The Eyes on Nigeria project is a comprehensive view of the most pressing human rights issues facing the people of Nigeria. We hope that people around the world will be inspired by what they learn through this new project to act in concert with the Nigerian people to demand basic human dignity.

Eyes on Nigeria continues our work using advanced tools and technologies to document difficult or intractable human rights crises, such as those occurring in Syria, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan and other countries.

Many thanks to our colleagues from the American Association for the Advancement of Science for their technical assistance and analysis and to Blue Raster for the implementation of Eyes on Nigeria.

To learn more about the human rights situation in Nigeria, I encourage you to explore the interactive Eyes on Nigeria website. For updates on this and other stories, please follow me on Twitter.

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