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Environment

Lax regulation fuels Niger Delta unrest: Amnesty

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria has failed to regulate its oil industry adequately, fuelling anger in the Niger Delta by leaving communities exposed to the effects of oil spills, gas flaring and waste dumping, Amnesty International said.

Oil from a leaking pipeline burns in Goi-Bodo, a swamp area of the Niger Delta in Nigeria October 12, 2004. REUTERS/Austin Ekeinde

Weak government oversight and a lax attitude among foreign oil firms during half a century of oil extraction has brought wealth to a few but left many villagers mired in poverty, the rights group said in a report published on Tuesday.

“People living in the Niger Delta have to drink, cook with and wash in polluted water. They eat fish contaminated with oil and other toxins,” said the report’s co-author, Audrey Gaughran.

“The land they farm on is being destroyed. After oil spills the air they breathe smells of oil, gas and other pollutants. People complain of breathing problems and skin lesions, yet neither the government nor oil companies monitor the human impacts of oil pollution.”

An upsurge in attacks by militants in the delta, one of the world’s largest wetlands and home to Africa’s biggest oil industry, is eating into Nigeria’s revenues and pushing world energy prices higher.

Amnesty said the majority of the evidence it gathered in its 140-page report related to the operations of Anglo-Dutch energy giant Royal Dutch Shell.

It accused Shell’s SPDC joint venture, which operates onshore in the Niger Delta, of harming human rights by failing to mitigate pollution and environmental damage adequately.

Shell said Amnesty had come to the oil hub of Port Harcourt to confront it with questions but made “no attempt at open dialogue to understand the complexities and pressures that define the relationships SPDC has with various stakeholders.”

“They forget that 85 percent of the pollution from our operations comes from attacks and sabotage that also put our staff’s lives and human rights at risk,” Shell’s Africa communications director Olav Ljosne told Reuters.

IMPOVERISHED VILLAGERS

The crisis in the Niger Delta is often portrayed as a simple conflict between Western oil firms and impoverished villagers.

But it involves a web of vested interests of corrupt politicians, mafia-like networks of thugs, and a trade in industrial quantities of stolen oil worth millions of dollars a day.

Shell’s Ljosne said that between 2006 and 2008 armed gangs had kidnapped 133 SPDC employees and contractors and five people working for the joint venture had been killed.

“This is the reality of the Niger Delta, and it’s a reality that is not reflected adequately in this report,” Ljosne said.

“We share Amnesty’s concerns for the people of the delta and we would welcome the opportunity to work constructively with them on solutions, as we do with others,” he said.

Amnesty acknowledged that communities sometimes contributed to the problems, vandalizing infrastructure to win clean-up contracts or demanding payment for access to spill sites.

It made little mention of government corruption. Former state governors stand accused of looting hundreds of millions of dollars from the billions the region receives each year as its share of federal oil revenues, money meant for development.

(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/ )

Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by Robert Woodward

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