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UN Pushes for Niger Delta Clean-Up

Nigeria, PORT HARCOURT

The United Nations Environment Progam (UNEP) is pushing for action to clean up oil spills in Nigeria’s Ogoniland territory, which it says “could prove to be the world's most wide-ranging and long term oil clean-up exercise ever undertaken.”

UNEP says any further delay in implementing recommendations contained in the Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland report of 2011 could exacerbate pollution levels, which are spreading by1.5 kilometers every year.

The recommendations focus on restoring land, water bodies and other important ecosystems.

As a first step towards kick-starting the cleanup program, which is likely to take 30 to 50 years, UNEP on February 13 proposed a total ban on use of groundwater and surface water in Niger Delta, and asked the government of President Goodluck Jonathan to look for alternative water supply sources until the remediation program is complete.

UNEP’s recommendations include creation of an agency, Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority, with an initial funding of $1 billion USD, to spearhead the environmental restoration program jointly with other government agencies.

Nigeria has already established the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPEREP) with a mandate to “investigate, evaluate and establish other hydrocarbon-impacted sites and make appropriate recommendations.”

Findings in the UNEP report, prepared after one and half years of investigations and handed over to President Jonathan two years ago, revealed inadequate “control and maintenance of oilfield infrastructure in Ogoniland.”  It found that Dutch oil giant Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC) had failed to apply its own procedures, “creating public health and safety issues.”

“The surface water throughout the creeks in and surrounding Ogoniland contain hydrocarbons. Floating layers of oil vary from thick black oil to thin sheens,” the report said.

Last week, UNEP Special Envoy Erik Solheim promised that “the UN system is committed to supporting the government throughout the entire process of implementing the recommendations of the report.”

In January, a Dutch court ordered SPDC to pay damages to a Nigerian man who had sued with three others for compensation over contamination of land and waterways in Ogoniland. The court, however, rejected three other cases filed by international environmental group Friends of the Earth.

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