Oil production and Environmental pollution: A serious concern that need to be address with urgency

Photo: Supplied

By Kor Chop Leek

December 4, 2018 (SSNA) — Recently, Duetsche Welle (DW), A Germany’s Public International Broadcaster also known as Voice of Germany (VOG) and USIAD posted on their websites pages a couple of weeks ago this month titled “oil production in South Sudan has poisoned the drinking water of some 600,000 people in April”. A statement the Kuala Lumpur based Malaysian giant promised to take action which I shared on my face book timeline earlier and prompted me to elaborate on as appoint of concern to the leadership.

The Alarm of environmental pollution started in 2006 before South Sudan Independence. The problem of contamination stemmed from oil extractions and drillings at Tharjath oil field operated by White Nile Petroleum Operating Company Ltd (WNPOC), under the concession of Malaysian oil and gas giant. After the new nation break away from Khartoum, oil revenue remained the backbone of economy that finance socioeconomic development. The disposal of wastes chemicals from oil production has not met appropriate management and this pose health hazards to local residents and the environment as well.  Residents of Rier of former Unity State begin to complain that, the drinking water from the boreholes tasted bitterly. A number of cases of acute watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, anemia, paralysis and renal failure also occurred. The local residents complained that their animals (Cows, Goats, Sheep and other livestock) are also dying in numbers, believed to be from the waste chemicals deposited from the ambient environment.

It is this alarm that the “Sign of Hope”, A German based human rights International non-governmental organization inspect the area in February 2007 to scientifically investigate the evident of the matter. In the course of their investigations, they conducted a field research at the vicinities of the oil wells at Tharjath and Mala. The German based organization interviewed local residents of Rier, and the government officials in the area for the alleged contamination. More than 50 water samples were collected separately at different wells and at different times. The samples were tested in the renowned Laboratory in Germany and the test indicated that, there is high concentration of contaminants {Nitrates, Strontium, Cadmium, Leads, barium, Sodium Chlorides, Potassium, Iron and many others} in the drinking water.

The investigation further revealed that, the lead operator, the White Nile Petroleum Operating Company {WNPOC} based in Khartoum inappropriately disposed the oil wastes in the pits not lined with plastics sheets or neither injected the produced water deeply into the ground nor fenced the old abandoned oil wells. This dangerously caused the health hazards to the environmental and the people. It jeopardized the life of local communities living near Tharjath oil fields. The contaminants or produced water and the drilling fluids disposed openly in the shallow pits permeated underneath the soil and contaminated the upper potable water aquifer, a layer underground where clean drinking water exist. Sign of Hope officially released the results of their findings in a press conference held in Germany (2008-2009), accusing WNPOC of violating the internationally based practices in conformity with norms of environment safety, protection of civilians, respect of human rights, and access to clean water, a claims WNPOC swiftly refuted as baseless accusations.

Sign of Hope research also revealed that, contamination may reach the Sudd swamps, the world largest water body in the region if no urgent action taken by the Government of South Sudan and the Oil operation Company. The high concentration of the contaminants may risk the life of the different species existing in the swamps, such as fishes, crocodiles, hippopotamuses, and essential aqua animals including reeds, papyrus and tall grass of the wet land. The typical example of this, is the River Niger Delta in Nigeria which is no longer suitable for fishing nor its water suitable for drinking due to oil pollution. Niger Delta remained in instability over the years till today.

The release of the report sparked concerns internationally. In 2009, world media such as BBC and CNN both accused government of Sudan of not protecting the rights of civilians and the environment. Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management, United States Environmental Program (USEP), United Nations Environmental Program, European coalition of Oil in Sudan (ECOS) based in Netherlands, submitted separate reports to Sudan government at the time, expressed their concern over the contamination caused and the need for quick response. WNPOC is accused of serious human rights violations. They called for indemnifications for the affected civilians, provision of clean drinking water, and protection of the environment and animals. They further called for proper wastes disposal and start the program for bioremediation for the polluted environment.

Similar scenario of Rier cases were subsequently reported by the government officials with deep tune of worries and disappointments. In the mid of 2014, Former Melut Commissioner in Upper Nile reported that, women gave birth to still births, countless abortions, and children born bear different deformities. Governor of Ruweng in the defunct Unity state in 2017 reported that, “there is serious environmental pollution caused by the oil spills and chemicals disposed by the oil companies”. He further expressed “there is need for immediate intervention from the National Government in Juba to address the matter in short time possible to rescue the people, animals and the environment”. The State Official lamented that, oil companies should live up to their commitment to protect the lives of the people and the livestock and the environment, a call swallowed silently.

In reality, the oil production contaminants have not only posed health risk on the civil populations of Rier, Bouw, Koch, Pakur and Guit, but also on National oil workers and professionals employees working in the various oil sector in the country. The genetic effect on people, livestock and environment cannot be physically seen directly. With time of reproduction, this genetic consequence expressed in human and animals in form of deformities. A poisoned polluted environment (soil) with oil chemicals affect all types of crops produced. The consumption of such products (grains, maize, vegetables, and fruits) by locals causes genetic problem in the body.

In Biochemistry, the outrageous problem with such genetic effect on human is that the DNA mutation caused alteration of the DNA amino acids sequence in the DNA structure. In the event of the opposite sex union. It happens that, if one of the two opposite sex has a mutated gene (DNA), then the offspring(s) which might have will likely inherit that mutated gene and appear as deformity in birth. It can be deformity of legs, or eye-blindness at birth or any part of the body deformity you may experience. This is the situation happening faced by our people residing at the vicinities of the oil fields.

Since the country is in a paradigm shift toward peaceful transition, the author believes, the government of South Sudan have the resources, have the laws (petroleum Act) that regulate the work and the mandate of the oil and gas companies operating in the country. I appeal to the government to demonstrate its political will to protect her people, animals, and environment.  Oil Minister Ezekiel Lol’s statement to local media in the late August this year in regard to environmental protection as quoted by Sign of Hope said “For us the protection of the environment is of utmost importance” sound logical. I urged the top official to live up to his word. PETRONAS must adhere to environmental regulations. It is an absolute constitutional right of the residents displaced by the oil industry to have access to clean water, access to quality healthcare services, live in clean safe environment, and above all, they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect as stipulated in the Universal Declarations of Human Rights.

The author is a concern South Sudanese citizen. He is currently pursuing master’s degree program in Humanitarian and Conflict Studies at the Institute of Peace, Development, and Security Studies (IPDSS), University of Juba. The views expressed here are solely his and does not represent any body’s opinion. He can be reached through: [email protected]

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