ABUJA, Jun 30 – The pollution caused by half a century of oil extraction in Nigeria is one of the world\’s most disturbing examples of the curse of natural resources, a global rights lobby group said Tuesday.
Amnesty International said environmental pollution in Nigeria\’s southern oil region, the Niger Delta, has deprived tens of millions of people of their basic rights to safe food, clean water and good health.
In a report released Tuesday, Amnesty described the situation in the Niger Delta, home to 31 million people, as a "human rights tragedy" which has fuelled anger and conflict.
"People living in the Niger Delta have to drink, cook with, and wash in polluted water; they eat fish contaminated with oil and other toxins — if they are lucky enough to still be able to find fish," said the report.
Farmland in the region, one of the most important wetlands on earth, is being destroyed by oil spills.
"After oil spills the air they breathe reeks of oil, gas and other pollutants; they complain of breathing problems, skin lesions and other health problems, but their concerns are not taken seriously," the report added.
Amnesty blames both the government and multi-national oil giants for the rights abuses in the south of Africa\’s most populous country.
"Their poverty, and its contrast with the wealth generated by oil, has become one of the world\’s starkest and most disturbing examples of the resource curse," the report said.
"The destruction of livelihoods, the lack of accountability of both the government and the oil companies, and the failure of the government to invest in development in the area, all feed the frustration which has increasingly found expression in conflict — often violent conflict," Amnesty said.
The most active and well armed of the militant groups in the delta has been the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, responsible for many of the attacks on oil installations over the past three years.
The regional militants and bandit gangs that rove the creeks of the Niger Delta have brought current crude production down to 1.8 million barrels a day compared with 2.6 million at the start of 2006.
Oil spills, waste dumping and gas flaring are endemic in the region, where at least 60 percent of the population relies on the natural environment for their livelihood.
"The Nigerian government is failing in its obligation to respect and protect the rights of people in the Niger Delta to food, water, health and livelihood," said Amnesty\’s head of business and human rights, Audrey Gaughran.
"Some oil companies, for their part, have taken advantage of this government failure, and have shown a shocking disregard for the human impact of their activities," she added.
Amnesty, however, said a recently set-up national oil spill detection and response agency (NOSDRA) "appears to have a more robust approach" to the problem.
Hundreds of oil spills occur every year, according to AI in the report, which is called "Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta".
"The Niger Delta provides a stark example of the lack of accountability of a government to its people, and of multinational companies’ almost total lack of accountability when it comes to the impact of their operations on human rights," Gaughran said.
Nigeria relies on oil for more than 90 percent of its export revenue. In a bid to end the delta conflict, President Umaru Yar\’Adua last week offered unconditional amnesty to the militants.
But Gaughran warned that the poverty- and conflict-scarred region will not be calm until the underlying causes of environmental damage and impunity for rights abuses ends.
Protests — armed and peaceful– "are frequently met with excessive use of force …including extrajudicial executions," said Amnesty.
Amnesty said communities and armed groups in the region have contributed to the pollution problem, by vandalising oil infrastructure and theft of oil. "But the scale of this problem is not clear," it said.