Poverty, destitution and deprivation prevalent in Ogoniland have been linked with the soil, air and water pollution that the people of the area have over the decades been exposed to.
This was the submission of participants at the close of a consultative meeting/training on Tuesday on the planned clean-up of polluted sites in Ogoni, where they noted that pollution and land degradation have adversely affected crop yield for farmers, fish yield for fisher folks and generally reduced the people’s ability to generate income and provide for their wellbeing. This fact, they added, exposed the community to unprecedented levels of deprivation.
The meeting also noted that air, soil and water pollution in Ogoniland has manifested in serious health problems which the people have had to deal with for many years. Some of these challenges, ranging from various form of respiratory disorders, heart deficiencies, lung related illnesses, problems with the outer epidermis, reproductive disorders including stillbirths and foetal malformation, have not been appropriately studied or documented in any detailed manner.
On the implementation of the clean-up, the consultative meeting noted that the Federal Government has demonstrated significant commitment in commencing the clean-up of Ogoniland in response to the recommendations of the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) Report. Participants, however, expressed worry that there were many cases of ongoing pollution in Ogoniland, thus making the proposed clean-up rather complicated.
The consultative meeting also noted that while the government has held several meetings with various interest groups on the clean-up process, the process of consultation still requires further work.
It noted that the multifarious expectations from the clean-up process is evidence that many people expect that process to become something it isn’t, and that this could lead to a problem of unrealised expectations, which could seriously undermine the process.
Similarly, the meeting noted that structures have not been instituted which makes the people part of the process as monitors of milestones and standards as well as actual agents of the clean-up. The meeting expressed fear that if this was not done, the type of community “buy-in” and “ownership” which is required for a smooth implementation process might be lost.
Based on the sentiments expressed, the consultative meeting concluded thus:
- Residents of pollution impacted sites in Ogoniland should immediately be provided with alternative source of drinking water in line with the emergency measures recommended by UNEP. The people are said to be using and drinking water from contaminated sources since 2011 after the UNEP Report was made public.
- All ongoing sources of pollution in Ogoniland should immediately be brought to an end. These include active bunkering activities which continues unabated in the Ogoni area; as well as the practice by the Military Joint Task Force of setting tankers impounded with stolen petroleum products on fire. The latter is an emerging major source of air and soil pollution with immediate devastating health impacts.
- Given the fact that pollution has continued five years after UNEP released its report, it is recommended that the report be updated to reflect current realities. It is believed that the levels of pollution recorded between 2011 and 2016 may have changed significantly, necessitating a review of the report to establish new and more realistic baselines.
- A comprehensive health impact assessment which should detail the health impacts of pollution on people who reside in pollution impacted sites should be carried out. This process will be a first step towards documenting the known and unknown health impacts of hydrocarbon pollution and planning remedial actions.
- The process of consultation and sensitisation should be intensified and carried on throughout the stages of the clean-up implementation process. This is to ensure that communities understand what each stage entails and what is expected in order to avoid possible confusion and misunderstanding which could result in conflict.
- In all stages of the lead-up and actual implementation of the clean-up, care must be taken to ensure that the different components of the stages reflect the inclusion of all segments of the society, including consideration for women, youths and people living with disabilities.
- In planning the clean-up, clear and verifiable milestones should be established and done so in such a way that all stakeholders are able to understand each stage of the milestones and when they have been met. This will ensure an active and healthy feedback cycle with all stakeholders.
- In establishing milestones, the training of community members to act in different capacities in the clean-up, must be instituted as a critical means of community inclusion. The already established and trained group of Ecological Defenders drawn from the various Ogoni communities should be considered a component of this milestone.
- In order to ensure that the clean-up activities enjoy the support of all current and future government establishments, an executive Bill proposing the establishing legal frameworks for the structures and funding of the clean-up process should be immediately sent to the National Assembly for consideration.
- Communities should do everything possible and necessary to create the enabling environment- devoid of rancour and conflict – for the smooth implementation of the recommendation of UNEP.
Organised by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) in collaboration with Ogoni Solidarity Forum, Social Action, Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre, Lokiakia Centre and Oilwatch Nigeria, the forum featured environmental monitors, civil society activists, community activists and the media.