In recent months, international attention has gravitated toward the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast, some claiming it to be the worst environmental disaster in the United States. However, large-scale oil spills are not a recent occurrence. As seen in the previous blog about the oil spill in the Ecuadorian Amazon, many developing countries have experienced environmental catastrophies that greatly alter the ecosystems and the lives of residents. Often in the interest of profit, MDC’s will ignore disasters in LDC’s, such as the oil spill in Nigeria.

As Africa’s main crude oil producer and one of the world’s poorest countries, Nigeria is also the country with the most oil spills in the world. According to an article in The Guardian the country has 606 oilfields which supply 40% of the United States’ crude oil imports. For the past 50 years oil has been spilled or leaked out of corroded pipelines, and the ecological degradation is much more serious than the Gulf spill because of the fact that it has occurred over a long period of time, affecting several generations of Nigerians. The government estimates that more than 2.4 million barrels have contaminated the land and water over a period of 20 years. However, the government owns 55% of Shell Nigeria, the company responsible for the majority of the leaks.

Those living in the Niger Delta are the most affected, and though many have staged non-violent protests, they have not achieved much under the shadow of corruption.

  1. Oil corporations in the Niger Delta seriously threaten the livelihood of neighboring local communities. Due to the many forms of oil-generated environmental pollution evident throughout the region, farming and fishing have become impossible or extremely difficult in oil-affected areas, and even drinking water has become scarce. Malnourishment and disease appear common.
  2. The presence of multinational oil companies has had additional adverse effects on the local economy and society, including loss of property, price inflation, prostitution, and irresponsible fathering by expatriate oil workers.
  3. Organized protest and activism by affected communities regularly meet with military repression, sometimes ending in the loss of life. In some cases military forces have been summoned and assisted by oil companies.
  4. Reporting on the situation is extremely difficult, due to the existence of physical and legal constraints to free passage and free circulation of information. Similar constraints discourage grassroots activism.

While the story told to consumers of Nigerian crude in the United States and the European Union—via ad campaigns and other public relations efforts—is that oil companies are a positive force in Nigeria, providing much needed economic development resources, the reality that confronted our delegation was quite the opposite. Our delegates observed almost every large multinational oil company operating in the Niger Delta employing inadequate environmental standards, public health standards, human rights standards, and relations with affected communities. These corporations’ acts of charity and development are slaps in the face of those they claim to be helping. Far from being a positive force, these oil companies act as a destabilizing force, pitting one community against another, and acting as a catalyst—together with the military with whom they work closely—to some of the violence racking the region today.

Essential Action and Global Exchange

Social impacts associated with the oil spill include loss of land and resources for those living in the Niger Delta, limited access to food and basic goods, and the additional burden that scarcity places on women, forcing some into prostitution. Some of the environmental impacts of the oil spill are gas flares, acid rain, pipeline leaks, destruction of habitat, and loss of biodiversity. The environmental pollution causes respiratory illnesses, coughing up blood, skin rashes, tumors, gastrointestinal difficulties, and malnourishment in the local villagers.

Oil spills of any magnitude and in any location should be of international concern, but the trend seems to be that spills directly affecting developed countries are widely publicized and quickly handled. The same immediate, large-scale response should be given to environmental catastrophies in developing countries, such as Nigeria or Ecuador, and aide given to the people who are plagued by poverty, poor health, and low economic development. Importance should not be based upon global socio-economic status but rather on the fact that we are all human being, and we are all dependent on our environments for survival.