Ogoni cleanup: HYPREP running on political will – Rights activist

The head, Environment and Conservation, at the Centre for Environment Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), Dr. Kabari Sam, has said that there are more than 2,000 polluted sites in the Niger Delta, resulting in the loss of livelihood and basic needs in those areas.

Sam said the areas polluted are covering 12 per cent of Nigeria’s land mass and about 31 million in population. The area contributes 90 per cent of the foreign exchange, which is over $600b, to the Nigerian economy.

Speaking with select journalists at an interactive session organised by Advocacy on Ogoni Clean-up on the status of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report implementation in Ogoniland, he said not much, if anything, had changed.

He explained the UNEP report on Ogoniland, which was released in August 2011, highlighting the attendant consequences of large-scale oil pollution, initiatives towards oil spill remediation, Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) and the journey so far.

He said the problem with HYPREP is that it is running on political will of government, as it is not backed by law.

“Yet its roles and responsibilities include to “investigate, map and evaluate hydrocarbon polluted communities and sites in Nigeria referred to it by the National Oil Spill Detection Response Agency (NOSDRA) or the Federal Ministry of Environment, implement the recommendations of the UNEP report on environmental restoration of Ogoniland as directed by the HYPREP Governing Council, provide guidance data to undertake remediation of contaminated soil and ground water in Ogoniland and
such other impacted communities as may be referred to it.

“To technically evaluate alternative technologies to be employed to undertake remediation of contaminated soil and ground water, make recommendations for responding to future environmental contamination from hydrocarbons, ensure full environmental recovery and restoration of Ogoni ecosystem services for Ogoni people and other impacted communities.”

He said there were emergency measures earmarked to combat the problem. They include ensuring “that all drinking water wells where hydrocarbons were detected are marked and that people are informed of the danger. However, this emergency measure is yet to be attained. Two communities in Ogale clan – Ekpangbala and Agbi – have contaminated water wells that are yet to be marked, and people still use water from these wells for different purposes.

“To provide adequate sources of drinking water to those households whose drinking water supply is impacted is another measure. It is yet to be implemented. Contracts were advertised to study the water reticulation in Ogoniland and also provide water. HYPREP is yet to provide potable water to any community.

“People in Nsisioken/ Ogale, who have been consuming water with benzene over 900 times the WHO guideline, are recorded on a medical registry and their health status assessed and followed up. HYPREP is yet to undertake this measure. Although HYPREP advertised for health impact assessment, only few ad hoc medical outreaches to treat basic sicknesses and undertake surgeries for some members of the Ogoni population had been undertaken. This is far from what UNEP recommended.

“Initiate a survey of all drinking water wells around those wells where hydrocarbons were observed and arrange measures (1-3) as appropriate based on the results. HYPREP has undertaken a survey of water facilities in Ogoniland.

“Post signs around all the sites identified as having contamination exceeding intervention values, warning the community not to walk through or engage in any other activities at these sites. The former HYPREP provided signage in selected polluted sites, particularly rivers and mono pumps. There are many polluted sites where there is no sensitization signage.

“Post signs in areas where hydrocarbons were observed on surface water, warning people not to fish, swim, or, bathe in these areas. The former HYPREP provided signs in selected polluted rivers.

“Inform all families whose rainwater samples tested positive for hydrocarbons and advise them not to consume the water. HYPREP is yet to identify these families, consult or inform. Or, better still, sensitize the Ogoni population on the hazard of drinking contaminated rainwater.

“Mount a public awareness campaign to warn the individuals who are undertaking artisanal refining that such activities are damaging their health. HYPREP has undertaken strategic level consultations with ex-artisanal refiners. This approach had been ineffective and given that the real people involved in artisanal refining (‘the foot soldiers’) and also suffer the impacts of the illicit and crude business is yet to be consulted.”

He recommended that government/ FME should consider the independence of HYPREP as a necessity; where possible, relax procurement processes to enable HYPREP function promptly and effectively; demonstrate financial and scientific commitment to remediate polluted areas; develop and establish ‘fit for purpose’ intervention and target values; ease the procurement process to facilitate the acquisition of resources for the remediation process, develop a sustainable framework for the deposition of funds in HYPREP’s escrow account to avert paucity of the remediation process.

“Enforce the independence of HYPREP to undertake its roles and responsibilities; enact adequate policies and legislation to prevent new spills; facilitate the delineation of government agencies undertaking overlapping roles and responsibilities in the environment sector; government at different levels to collaborate to ensure the provision of basic amenities in local communities; partner international bodies and donor organizations to secure support for the remediation process.”

He advised the communities “to discourage all artisanal refining activities in their communities; paramount rulers to take affirmative action on their subjects involved in artisanal refining and pipeline interference; to build a cordial relationship with remediation contractors in their communities.

“Cooperate with HYPREP officials during further delineation actions on impacted sites; provide all necessary supports to HYPREP, oil industry operators and the government to implement the UNEP report recommendations; develop internal communal mechanisms for supporting the clean-up process.

“Use different communal platforms to create awareness and sensitize the local population on the deliverables of the remediation exercise; engineer and partner community-based organisations and faith-based organisations to sensitize deviant youths in the communities.”

Sam also urged CSOs to “lobby relevant stakeholders to demonstrate commitment to the remediation exercise; lead advocacy visits to relevant government agencies to ensure the remediation of polluted sites in Ogoniland and beyond; facilitate peace building processes between relevant stakeholders, particularly impacted communities and the oil industry operators.

“Propagate early warning signals for conflict related issues that could impede the Ogoni cleanup; embark on massive awareness and sensitization campaigns in the impacted communities; develop platforms for reconciliation of aggrieved stakeholders; develop mechanisms for building trust and confidence amongst stakeholders and to focus substantial international aid on the education of stakeholders to increase the socioeconomic output of the remediation exercise.”

As an important stakeholder, Sam charged the media to ask critical questions, including the blueprint and work plan for the clean-up; project the good sides of the project; accurate, appropriate and timely reporting.

“Create awareness and sensitize the local population on the progress or otherwise of the project; develop capacity to report all aspects of the process; request for, and ensure transparency of the process; pressurize other stakeholders to deliver their role and where necessary apply the ‘naming and shaming’.”

Sam said, in a nutshell, “Ogoni clean-up is a multi-stakeholder project – the media is indispensable.”

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