Rachel Maddow is following the oil spill happenings in the US quite closely, and her Friday show had a section on the effect of the oil on the marshland and on health of the citizens living in surrounding areas. At first, I was sure the research I could find would be scanty on Niger-Delta, so I looked for health info from the Exxon-Valdez spill. Here's what the Natural Resources Defense Council blog has to say, and it's not pretty:
After the Exxon Valdez disaster, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported an increase in respiratory symptoms, headaches, throat and eye irritation, rashes and other skin problems among the clean-up workers. More recently, a study of beach clean-up workers and volunteers in Spain after a 2002 oil spill found an increase in DNA damage. The long-term significance of this finding is not yet known. In Alaska, a mental health study of residents one year after the spill found that exposed individuals were more likely to suffer from anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
Thankfully, I was wrong -- I could find something on health effects of the oil spill in the Niger-Delta. From the January 12, 2000, ERA field report on the oil spill in the Gana Urhobo community in the Niger-Delta:
Mr. Shedrach Oniyere, a 40 years old father of six children and Chairman of Gana community lamented to ERA that on May 13, 1999, a rupture occurred at the well 17 pipeline and spewed crude oil into the adjacent environment. The community said Shell only visited the community and did minor repairs on their aged pipeline leaving the environment devastated without any attention.I'm still waiting for someone in major media -- CNN, I'm talking to you -- to connect the dots on oil spill in the US, and shine a harsh light on oil companies' actions elsewhere in the world.
Consequently, another leakage occurred recently and spewed poisonous gas at the same well 17 pipeline that runs through Mrs. Omodovwe Adjohwo.s compound. ERA finding revealed that the leakage was caused by corrosion on the product pipeline.
The air in the community is charged with offensive odour and dangerous emissions from the affected site. This adverse atmospheric condition in the area has given rise to fears of impending epidemic in the area.
Unfortunately, the area has no health care facilities. The sanitary condition is very poor because of the polluted environment. The people are impoverished and suffer from poor nutrition. These factor are all conducive to disease vectors like cholera, dysentery, diarrhea and measles which has led to a high mortality rate in the community.
Late Mr. Joseph Evwietoma (a 48 years old man with two wives and 11 children) who was an asthmatic patient and the spokesman of the community slumped and died while inspecting the spill site with some government officials and some community members.
Medical sources who pleaded anonymity disclosed to ERA monitor at the Shell cottage hospital at Ireke in Ethiope East LGA, of Delta State, that the man died as a result of inhaling an excess of poisonous fumes. Another victim Master Godstime Obior, a 6 years old boy who was also asthmatic died in his residence close to the site of the explosion for the same reason. The corpses of the two deceased persons are still in the mortuary.
Yes, it's naive, but a girl can dream.
As critical as I am of oil company activities, I still blame the weak governments more than I do the oil companies. Companies, after all, are not hiding the fact that they're in it for a profit. The regulation and implementation of the laws on the books will mean taking money out of oil company's pockets, so one cannot imagine a profit-maximizing entity wanting to do that. No, the onus is more on governments to regulate these people in arenas that the interests of the companies and the people from whose land they reap their profit do not align. From U.S. to Nigeria, you can say one thing: They sure as hell aren't going to regulate themselves.
(Below: A video showing the oil spill from above)