Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Niger Delta: a Cautionary Tale for the United States

From the Left: The people who live in the Niger Delta have endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates. The oil pours out nearly every week and swamps once teeming with shrimp and crab, are long since lifeless.

Poorly regulated and maintained aging pipelines belonging to Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil, regularly burst, spewing black crude onto the mangroves and into the creeks for months at a time. Last month, soldiers guarding an Exxon Mobil site beat women who demonstrated against the spills.

“There is Shell oil on my body,” said Hannah Baage, emerging from Gio Creek with a machete to cut the cassava stalks balanced on her head.

The Gulf of Mexico oil disaster has transfixed a country and president they so admire is a matter of wonder for people who here, among the palm-fringed estuaries in conditions as abject as any in Nigeria. Though their region contributes nearly 80 percent of the government’s revenue, they have hardly benefit from it, and life expectancy is the lowest in Nigeria.

“President Obama is worried about that one,” Claytus Kanyie, a local official, said of the gulf spill, standing among dead mangroves in the soft oily muck outside Bodo. “Nobody is worried about this one. The aquatic life of our people is dying off. There used be shrimp. There are no longer any shrimp.”

With revised estimates that as many as 2.5 million gallons of oil could be spilling into the Gulf of Mexico each day, the Niger Delta has suddenly become a cautionary tale for the United States.

According to a team of experts for the Nigerian government and international and local environmental groups, as many as 546 million gallons of oil spilled into the Niger Delta in the past five decades, or nearly 11 million gallons a year. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 dumped an estimated 10.8 million gallons of oil into the waters off Alaska.

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