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People’s Daily Online: Poverty on an oil-rich land

Nigerian kidnappers asked foreign oil companies to stop polluting local environment after they abducted 13 foreign workers in the oil production areas of the country in early June. Several similar incidents have been reported since early this year.

In another development, Shell Company has received the verdict from a Nigerian local high court to pay US$ 1.5 billion in fines for pollution. Shell’s 1 million bps output in Nigeria accounted for more than 40% of Nigeria’s total oil production.

The rising oil prices on the international market were supposed to improve the life of people living in the oil-rich Niger Delta. The reality however, is quite the contrary. Those oil companies rarely check up or maintain the pipes they have laid. Up to 10, 000 barrels of oil leaked from cracks in the pipes. Severely polluted rivers and groundwater cause critical damages to local agriculture, fishery and drinking water. Black plume from burned crude plume which should have been re-injected underground has resulted in people suffocating.

Oil companies have accumulated excessive profits at the cost of the local environment and local people, whose lives have been made much poorer as a result. A large majority of the 20 million-population in the oil-rich area in Nigeria live in extreme poverty. Despite continued attempts to be compensated for the damages caused to the local environment by oil exploitation, their voices have so far been ignored.

In 2004, farms from five villages petitioned to Shell for a compensation of US$ 5 million because their land had suffered burns from a six-week fire resulting from leaked oil. They only received US$ 900 US in the end.

In despair, some Nigerians resorted to drastic measures. Workers of oil companies were kidnapped nearly every month. The tension between Shell and local residents are so frequent and intense that Shell once withdrew its staff of 326 staffs from the Nigeria Delta and regularly asked for security support from the Nigerian army.

The poverty that oil has brought to Nigeria can be traced back to the Western giants who have shirked social responsibilities and tainted the environment. What happened in Nigeria is not the only example of the infringement of multinationals on their host countries with their manufacturing activities. Last August Coca Cola was ordered to close down its bottling plant in Kerala, India by the Kerala State Pollution Control Board because its operation had resulted in a scarcity of water supply.

British American Tobacco’s Kenyan firm made profits of US$ 27 million in 2005. Some commented that in a country with a population of 4 million urgently in need of food aid, Kenyan farmers have compromised food and grain for starving families for the sake of producing tobacco to satisfy their cravings instead.

The excessive pursuit of gold by multinationals is short sighted. Shell’s plight in Nigeria suggests that their sustainable growth can not be possible if the interests of their partners are not secured.

By People’s Daily Online

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