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How oil extraction in Niger Delta affects climate, residents’ health & newborns

There is an ongoing conflict in the Niger Delta, which first originated in the early 1990s between foreign oil corporations and some minority ethnic groups of the region who believe they are being exploited.

Subhro Prakash GhoshSubhro Prakash Ghosh | Updated: 12-03-2020 00:21 IST | Created: 12-03-2020 00:21 IST
How oil extraction in Niger Delta affects climate, residents’ health & newborns
Apart from the violent conflicts, another significant matter needs to be touched is the current state of nature in Niger Delta. Image Credit: Flickr / Sosialistisk Ungdom

Is the extraction of petroleum in Niger Delta harming the residents' health for decades?

The Niger Delta is sometimes called the Oil Rivers as it was once a major producer of palm oil. Thanks to the Niger Delta, Nigeria has turned West Africa's biggest producer of petroleum. Around two million barrels (320,000 m³) of petrol are extracted every day in the Niger Delta.

Much of the natural gas extracted in oil wells in the Niger Delta is immediately burned, or flared, into the air at a rate of approx. 70 million m³ per day. Gas flaring has been a common practice for the refineries that operate here for decades. The process is maintained to accelerate the process of extraction. The figure 70 million m³ per day is equivalent to 41 percent of African natural gas consumption and forms the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions on the Earth.

Niger Delta has been dealing with conflicts for decades

The first oil operations in Nigeria's Niger Delta commenced in the 1950s and were undertaken by multinational companies. The market economy for Nigeria continued to rise with the extraction of oil after the end of the civil war in 1970. Since 1975, the region has accounted for over 75 percent of Nigeria's export earnings. Together oil and natural gas extraction comprise around 97 percent of Nigeria's foreign exchange revenues.

There is an ongoing conflict in the Niger Delta, which first originated in the early 1990s between foreign oil corporations and some minority ethnic groups of the region who believe they are being exploited. Despite severe conflicts, the former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo established the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2000 with the sole mandate of developing the petroleum-rich Niger-Delta region of southern Nigeria. The NDDC was formed in response to the demands of the population of the Niger Delta. The NDDC has focused on the development of social and physical infrastructures, ecological or environmental remediation and human development. However, the Niger Delta's minorities continue to express their demands for greater autonomy and control of the area's petroleum resources.

The Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND) has recently published 'Niger Delta Annual Conflict Report' that reveals a rise in conflict risk and lethal violence in 2019 in comparison to 2018. There were 416 violent incidents resulting in more than 1,000 recorded deaths last year, while the year 2018 witnessed 351 incidents resulting in 546 recorded deaths. The states most affected were Rivers, Delta and Edo.

How oil extraction is spoiling the environment

Apart from the violent conflicts, another significant matter needs to be touched is the current state of nature in Niger Delta. The petroleum industry has tremendously polluted the environment in some parts of the Niger Delta that the local people, who traditionally depended on farming and fishing, were compelled to give up their professions. And this is also true that the regional people do not benefit adequately from the oil wealth. The federal government to the states and local governments share out the oil revenue. Due to these reasons, the common people continue to show their discontent and it often turns into violent revolution.

A study recently found that unborn and newborn infants are most vulnerable to oil-related pollution, as they have not yet developed basic defences such as the blood-brain barrier that helps in protecting against toxic chemicals. According to the researchers' study on the Niger Delta, the oil spills occurring within 10 kilometres of a mother's place of residence doubled neonatal mortality rates and impaired the health of her surviving children. The shocking results revealed that spills which happened even 5 years ago before conception doubled the neonatal mortality rate from 38 to 76 deaths for every 1,000 births.

In varied parts of the Niger Delta, women are mainly responsible for clothing and feeding the family (like the women farm, do fishing and harvest crabs and snails). But the current state is few fish and shellfish left are coated in oil, crops can't grow and drinking water is even poisoned. The locals have no water, no good road, no hospital and they have been suffering for years. The World Health Organization already notified gas flaring is severely hazardous to humans and a large number of people are already suffering from respiratory and cancer problems in the Niger Delta. On the other hand, many reports claim that Nigerian officials in association with private companies and using the military have expelled people of their land for agribusiness without paying its real value.

An estimated over 240,000 barrels of crude oil are spilled in the Niger Delta every year resulting poisoning of water, contamination of crop and release of toxic chemicals into the air. According to the UN Environment Programme, it will take at least 25 to 30 years to reverse damage to public health and the regional eco-system. This is a high time for the government of Nigeria to look into these several vital issues and find out alternatives to first ensure the safety of the common people in the Niger Delta and protect the environment at large.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are the personal views of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Devdiscourse and Devdiscourse does not claim any responsibility for the same.)

Also Read: Why South Africa must focus on renewable energy instead of increasing coal-fired energy


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