December 27, 2012 (BENTIU) - The Commissioner of Koch County in South Sudan’s oil-rich Unity State says that pollution from oil companies operating in his area is severely damaging the environment and water supply for local people.
John Chuol Wang, told Sudan Tribune that during the rainy season, which occurs around June each year, some people from Kuoch County die from drinking polluted water.
According to the Koch County Commissioner oil companies operating in the state since 1997 have installed inadequate infrastructures and misused chemicals leading to the deaths of thousands of people and animals.
During the civil war the Sudanese government forced the inhabitants of Rubkotna, Guit, Parieng and Koch Counties to leave the area so oil drilling could begin. the Koch County Commissioner complained in an interview with Sudan Tribune that civilians who were forcibly displaced during the civil war have not been received compensation.
Under the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended the civil war that began in 1983, Unity State was supposed to directly receive 2 percent of all oil revenue produced in the state. For the duration of the CPA revenue from South Sudan’s oil was split 50:50 between Khartoum and a new autonomous government in South Sudan led by former rebels - the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
South Sudan seceded from Sudan last year as part of the CPA but bad relations have meant that production has been halted since January, severely affecting South Sudan’s economy. Unity State has reduced the salaries of government employees by 25 percent to the anger of civil servants.
The Commissioner of Koch County complains that environmental practices in Unity State’s oil industry have not improved since autonomy in 2005 or independence in six years later.
Koch County authorities and the traditional paramount chiefs also complain that have not received services such as good roads, health centres and schools from the South Sudanese that they expected to receive since the SPLM came to power in 2005.
Commissioner Wang urged the national government to study the environmental situation in oil-producing areas before production resumes.
Isaac Rong Chieng, the paramount chief of Koch County, says the oil has been drilled and pumped from their ancestral lands for more than 10 years but they have nothing to show for it.
He said he was "proud" that South Sudan became independent in 2011 and hoped the government would begin to provide more services to people in the area than they had while the area was still part of Sudan.
He added that Sudanese government had "tortured" people in the area, while taking away their resources. However, he expressed hopes that the new nation will change past implications for better future development on areas producing oil.
Unity State’s Minister of Natural Resources, Stephen Pech Beliew, said that the Koch County commissioner had submitted a report demanding an investigation on the about oil-related pollution.
"We knew Khartoum oil companies began to operate in oil producing areas, most of which do not have environmental conservation for protection, which is a threat to the people living around oil field”, said Beliew.
He urged on lawmakers in South Sudan’s parliament to design a law guiding the conduct of oil operations in world’s newest nation.
Beliew says both the central and state governments have known for a long time about the poor management of the oil industry in both Upper Nile and Unity state. He added that there is a need for a proper study of the environmental impact of pollution is oil-producing areas. The minister could not confirm how many people had died due to oil pollution in South Sudan.
Kong Chany Kai a new manager of South Sudan Petroleum Operation Company, which replaces the former While Nile Petroleum Operation Company says luck of safety was the main problem facing the operation in Tharjath oil field in Unity State.
"The recent breakouts in oil field have shown that the previous oil companies are not serious about safety of oil operation in the area. We could not neither confirm nor denied that the chemical use during drilling of oil wells could led to pollution among communities living around", said Kai.
Kai hopes that the new policies of South Sudan Petroleum Operation Company would improve safety of oil operations in Tharjath. He called on Juba government to cooperate with oil companies operating in the country to work hard in order to improve the safety on the ground.