In the United States, the Occupy Wall Street movement has spotlighted the big banks for their role spreading toxic investments and contributing to economic deprivation. Meanwhile in Nigeria, Amnesty’s new report, The true tragedy: delays and failures in tackling oil spills in the Niger Delta reveals how spills of toxic crude oil from the operations of big oil companies, like Shell, have harmed people’s health and devastated their livelihoods.
In August and December 2008, two major oil spills disrupted the lives of the 69,000 people living in Bodo, a town in the Niger Delta. Three years on, Shell has yet to take full responsibility for the spills, clean up the damage, and provide compensation to the people whose lives have been affected.
Interviewed for the Amnesty International report, Bodo resident Regina Porobari described how she used to trade fish while her husband used to be a fisherman. After the August 2008 spill, the fish in their creek died or were too polluted to eat. Even the harvest from her vegetable garden has shrunk.
“Many families can’t afford to buy food with enough nutrients….Everyone is struggling.”
The lives of tens of thousands of people have been directly affected by the spills and the ongoing pollution. Many are worried about their health. Those, like Regina Porobari, who fished or farmed have had their livelihood decimated while local food prices have soared.
Shell’s failure to clean up in Bodo contradicts both international human rights standards and Nigerian law. Had Shell immediately stopped the spills and cleaned up the oil, the company could have prevented the devastation to the Bodo community. In fact, it is Shell’s failure to comply with Nigerian regulations for a timely and proper clean-up that represents the true tragedy of its Bodo disaster.
As tragic as it is, the Bodo disaster is but one of a pattern of oil spills in the Niger Delta. In August 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published the report “Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland.” In this first ever independent scientific study of oil pollution in the region, UNEP found that the people of the Niger Delta have been exposed to widespread and severe contamination for decades. This pollution has affected the community’s drinking water. One local fisherman explained:
“People used to collect [the rain] for drinking water. But today even the rain water is contaminated. It looks black.”
Amnesty International has already called on the Nigerian government to ensure clean up and compensation of communities in the Niger Delta.
Amnesty is now calling on Shell to contribute the full $1 billion identified by UNEP as the start-up amount needed to establish an independent fund to clean up the pollution in Ogoniland. We are also petitioning the oil company to carry out a comprehensive clean-up in Bodo in consultation with the community. Finally, we are urging the company review its entire operations in the Niger Delta and ensure appropriate clean up, community consultation, and compensation payments.