Home | News    Wednesday 5 March 2008

South Sudan villagers, environment suffer from oil boom

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March 4, 2008 (RIER, Sudan) — Kicked out of sleepy Nile fishing hamlets lost forever to Sudan’s oil boom, villagers in the south curse a refinery for causing forced relocations, for spreading disease and ravaging the environment.

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A Southern Sudanese drinks water from the Aquem river, near Malual Kon, north of Bahr er Gazal, southern Sudan, Feb 12, 2006.

Activists also warn that the 2006 arrival of White Nile Petroleum Company (WNPOC), a consortium led by Malaysia’s Petronas, in Unity State threatens the Sudd wetlands, the world’s largest maze of swamps, lagoons and tributaries.

Villagers say thousands were forcefully evicted to make way for a low-sulphur crude oil venture in south-central Sudan. They say they lost venerated ancestral homes, died from contamination and saw livelihoods jeopardised.

"Since 2006, 27 adults and three children have died because of contaminated water from the oil field," said Paul Bol Ruoth, county commissioner in Koch, about 70 kilometres (44 miles) from Bentiu, the state capital.

The oil firm has not been reachable for comment on the allegations.

But more than 1,000 people are now sick with unknown illnesses and among the fatalities, only three have been compensated by WNPOC, local officials said.

Despite US-led sanctions to push Sudan to resolve the bloody war in Darfur, direct foreign investment in Sudan soared to 2.3 billion dollars in 2006, fueled by energy-hungry Asian economies led by China and Malaysia, just seven years after the country began exporting crude oil.

"The company (WNPOC) has no right. It’s our people who have the right over their land because they need it for grazing and clean water," said Ruoth.

Deluged by a barrage of complaints from hapless villagers whose lives were already fractured by decades of civil war, he led a delegation in mid-February to assess the toll on the environment from the oil refinery.

"Since water is contaminated, we have lost several cows and goats," said an elder from the Nuer ethnic group, too fearful to give his name when talking to reporters on a visit to the area.

"We need help," he said, staring hopelessly at plumes of smoke from the Thar Jath oil refinery, named after the former village evacuated to make way for the complex and sitting in the heart of the partly drained Sudd swamp.

Villagers may be mesmerised by new roads and electricity cables, but they have seen little tangible improvement to their squalid lifestyle.

Now they are furious at the prospect of swanky hotels and malls in the swampy heartland, where government troops and and ex-southern rebels pounded once each other with high explosives in the 21-year-old civil war.

"We do not care about the new development they promised us. All we need is our old, clean environment," said unemployed Peter Riek Gieng, 25, who worked as a casual labourer to help build the refinery.

When oil is extracted, large amounts of saline water, or brine, are injected into the sub-surface to maintain the pressure of oil reservoirs, which enhances oil recovery, said human rights and Christian aid group Sign of Hope.

Sample results seen by AFP indicated that brine from the refinery produced a high salinity, putting the concentration of nitrate at 81.6 mg/l, well above the 10 mg/l recommended by the the US Environmental Protection Agency.

"A nitrate concentration amounting to 81.6 mg/l can have serious effects especially on young children," said Sign of Hope in a statement.

"Infants below the age of six months who drink water containing nitrate in this dose could become seriously ill and, if untreated, may die," it said.

The head of the organisation, Reimund Reubelt, called on the authorities to act now to prevent an ecological catastrophe.

"We also see a looming ecological catastrophe for the largest swamplands of the world. To secure public health the government must now improve the quality of drinking water dramatically and at the same time prevent an ecological catastrophe," he added.

At Riek village, where local residents were relocated to make way for the Thar Jath refinery about 6.5 kilometres (four miles) away, children play around a bore-hole abandoned as a source of water for health concerns.

One oil employee, who requested to remain unnamed, told journalists that he witnessed oil workers dumping industrial waste into a nearby isolated pit in a dried swamp, which will flood in the rainy season.

"I usually see men in aprons dig up huge pits and dump toxic wastes. They do not let anybody near that area," he said.

But aid workers complain that the administration in southern Sudan is reluctant to address the issue since officials are profiting from oil wealth.

Some villagers promised a Nigeria-like struggle on oil companies.

"If the government ignores, us we will go Nigeria style," said Martin Luang, a rugged middle-aged villager alluding to the wave of kidnappings of oil workers and relations of prominent Nigerians in the restive Niger Delta.

Sudan’s oil production is estimated to reach between 500,000 and 600,000 barrels per day this year, but output is expected to rise in coming years and the boom in exploration is mainly in the southern region.

Although the north-south Sudan civil war ended with a peace agreement in 2005, both sides still bicker over shares of oil revenue.

(AFP)

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  • 5 March 2008 04:09, by Justin Chicago opiny

    The international oil companies and the local oil companies must see into the environment issue first.Environmental destruction to the people in the oil production area is going to hurt them for along time. Health and safety of our enviroment must come first. Change for development must go hand in hand with the health and safety of the enviroment.It is better to be healthy than rich in an unhealthy environment. Life is very precious!!

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    • 5 March 2008 11:00, by lansha

      A lot of desinformation is spread in the southern parts. The source of information points to US-officials which are trying to elbow in to the oilrich areas. There will be no real peace until the US gets a part of the oil deal.They can not allow China and the other Asian countries to get hold of the oil on their behalf. Furthermore they dont give a shit about the people living there.

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  • 5 March 2008 04:35, by Mr Famous Big_Logic_Boy

    When am talking about USA departments to take the responsblity of Sudan or SS development,yet Mr Kiir is intending to choose midd-east ,well and good if your regime is to kill SS people by encouraging those worker to contaminate the envirionemnt resources good on you Goss.but i recommand that such policy of introducing harmfull companies while others become the properious with blood of others should be abolish otherwise a blind has no chance to achieved,

    a good leader should take care of his own people and must act responsble interms of qualifiction and reasoning in logically manner before signing international relationship with Org,otherwise SS will go on wrong ideology under such operation.government is elected by people to look after people,but not elected to harm people should you keep ignoring those issues Mr Goss for sure the nearest future well result to negative effects acccording to your own action aganist your people.In Equatoria people were left to LRA or murle without protection,also murle were left to act crazy within states,again nomads are acting seriously in Abeyi and now its you importing those caresless companies to harm your people,realy are you in positive prograss??? Mr 
    forget about current chance of being properious,its like evil otherwise soon same will be on de bottom of this world.people are dreaming for development as happening in jonglei state yet there is lack of financal,so where is the money collected from those harms companise or other resources mr Goss??????

    being positive is the highest standadrd of achieving and respresenting yourself as a qualified leader

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    • 5 March 2008 17:23, by BIAR PETER AYUEN AGUEK

      Logic!

      Your comment is good but poorly presented, because verbal confrontation to the president is dishonest. Infact, it is unprecedented to see our people dying like chickens and indeed the blame goes to our governement as you put it clear likewise Mr yong did, in actual sense, it is our duty we young people to call up on our government on such a scourge, and what is very vital in doing that is honesty, as it is regarded as a best policy, just copy the way you approach your father. so go a head and make changes in your approach, you may be a good writer.

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  • 5 March 2008 04:40, by Deng

    It is very unfortunate that the government of South Sudan is watching the land South Sudanese had fought for and claimed countless lives being polluted and destroyed by the Asians oil companies. Oil wells will dry up in the near future, but the chemicals used in the oil fields will remain there forever. The wetland’s people, ecology and resources that have been there for centuries are being destroyed for a temporary profit.

    There is no environmental analysis or cost-benefit analysis of oil drilling in the Sudd wetlands had been conducted and no one in the government of south Sudan is talking about these issues, instead they are talking resuming the Jonglei Canal project. This is a shame for the government of South Sudan and a failure of leadership. What has been evident with this government is corruption and failure of leadership in different sphere of governmental organization. A new autonomy state has already shown a sign of a fail state. Political capital is deteriorating, social capital is eroding and natural capital is being destroyed for a short team benefit, what is the work of the government? Political issues can be resolves, social problems can be address, but degraded environment is difficult to be restored.

    The government of South Sudan must step up pressure and stopped the pollution of the Sudd Wetlands and contamination of the locals. The Asian companies that are responsible must be held accountable for the destruction of the environment, law suit be brought against them to compensate for the environmental destruction, pollution and the contamination the locals. The must leave South Sudan otherwise the citizens will take responsibility in their own hands if the government of South Sudan don’t want to convene quickly. We are keeping our eyes on the development of this Subject.

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  • 5 March 2008 07:00, by Yong Kuai

    Asian Companies should never ever be blamed on this unbelievable pollution of South Sudan environments, but the government who granted them concessions to drill oil without an environmental assessment carried out to protect the land.

    As a said in my previous comment that the speeding up of development in Southern Sudan would risk to the lost of environment which we all will regret. We all following the issues about global warming being discuss in the Western World. This issue was allegedly caused by the industrial revolution of the 18th to 21st century.

    My blame on the government is that no company should have been allowed to drill oil without "Social and Environmental Assessment". This assessment would have identified any social and environment risks that would incur from oil drilling. It is the first step that any company exploring oil can take before thay are granted approval to drill oil.

    The Ministry of Environment and Tourism will be held responsible for land destruction in South Sudan . They are managing one of the richest environment in the World and yet they don’t know what to do with it. Better consult the western environmental consultancies to manage the environment for you.

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