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NIGERIA'S PLEA TO STOP GAS FLARING IGNORED: WOMEN CONTINUE PAYING THE PRICE

A view of the Refinery taken at Rido

Everything that represents life is dying and stirring a palpable and rippling imbalance. How could these women and their families stay alive in an environment that has searing temperatures, noxious air and heavily tainted waters that result from gas flaring? This process is routinely employed to dispose of natural gas associated with crude oil, which takes place in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna respectively. The reason it occurs there is because it is cheaper to process it at the expense of the host communities that live next door; than to invest in modern level technology that that will turn it into a valuable resource for common good. While the oil explorers and gas flarers are flourishing on their prized proceeds, host communities are lurching in ghettos that lack basic necessities and have shockingly high pollution levels. Women conspicuously epitomize the stark reality!

Women’s stories have the power to stir change, so I took a peek into the lives of indigenous women in the oil producing and refining areas of Nigeria. My first stop was the village of Rido (Kaduna), a densely populated locality with mixed land uses: agricultural, residential, commercial and industrial. It is springtime and I could not ignore the immense but suspiciously thriving greenery around- farmlands, lush grasslands and sparsely distributed mature trees and shrubs. I also saw farmers plowing their green clothed fields. Within the inhabited areas, haphazardly built houses and shops competed for space with crisscrossing footpaths and unpaved narrow roads. Many of the structures were plastered with thin layers of cement that barely masked the mud walls underneath; and they appeared more awkward with their rusted roofs. In contrast, however, the standard and more secluded residence of the district head, an employee of the nearby refinery, displayed affluence.

The local market area was a beehive of activities as people, mostly women and girls, traded their wares; seemingly oblivious of the nearby flares that bellowed clouds of thick smoke into the very heart of, and around their unfortunate village. An elderly woman quickly caught my attention. She was carefully adjusting a set of green metal basins patterned with splashes of white polka dots arranged on two tables that created a brief and constricted aisle in the front of her shop. Each basin contained different types of grains: rice, wheat, beans, millet, and guinea corn.

Her name was Iye. She was illiterate, yet not ignorant of the health and safety hazards posed by the black fumes from the nearby refinery. “Every now and then the fumes spread, and we begin to inhale its repulsive smell as it infiltrates our homes and shops. It causes catarrh (influenza). A few days ago, as the fumes filtered into my shop, I became nauseated, and I felt like I was going to pass out. True to God!” she swore. By this time, three other women who had joined us nodded in agreement. “The obnoxious effect is nastiest whenever it rains” she concluded. Ebony black Grace, 31, also recounted how ‘the smell of the fumes always made her feel ill and left her with a very funny sensation in her stomach, particularly in the mornings and at night time.”

A few shops away, I met Vicky an observably young mother who said that she moved into the neighbourhood five years ago after she got married. She was sitting on a lowly built wooden bench in front of a hair dressing salon beside her own shop - a small spaced and poorly lit shop. It had one tired looking sewing machine and an overcrowded wooden table. Two cut up fabrics also hung over a short string of weak rope nailed across a part of the wall. Apparently stirred by my presence, her little daughter Elizabeth who crouched over the seat behind her suddenly raised her head revealing a frail look and a build-up of thick mucus in her nostrils. Vicky echoed the minds of her peers and also repainted the picture of her daughter when she said “the fumes is really affecting us, especially our children, many of whom are not feeling well. My daughter falls ill a lot and has catarrh all the time. I also experience headaches after inhaling the fumes when it rains or the wind changes direction.”

Indigenous women are the most vulnerable to environmental hazards because the traditional responsibility of providing and managing natural resources required for the sustenance of the family rests on them. For example, they are the primary collectors of water (rain, wells, and rivers) from sources that are usually contaminated by oil spills and wastes, acid rain, mud etc. They harvest rain water through a gutter system or direct roof drips which means collecting water that falls through layers of thick fumes that are suspended in the air, and then runs down corroded soot covered roofs. A group of women complained that the water was usually blackish or contained traces of blackish particles. I was also told that “ordinarily, water sourced from their wells was good for consumption. However, whenever it rained, the taste of the water becomes objectionable, and they have to wait for at least a week before it becomes normal again.”

In March 2013, there was a critical case of furfural (chemical substance that is soluble in water) spill into river Romi from the refinery which got down to Juji Bridge in the close by village and beyond. The runoff turned the normally clear blue river water black. Though the refinery ultimately commissioned an expert to clean the spill up in April, the cost to the community was high; since many of them relied on the water for fishing, irrigating their farms or for doing laundry. Claims are rife that the refinery often discharged its liquid wastes into river Romi at night.

I paid a visit to Mr. Gamaliel Stephen, an environmental expert, approached by people from the affected communities, and he told me that “furfural is harmful upon contact with skin, toxic by inhalation and if swallowed, irritating to eyes and respiratory system and has some degree of carcinogenic effect. He also expressed apprehension about the health repercussions on unsuspecting residents who consume or allow themselves to get drenched in the polluted, particularly farmers who rely on the polluted waterways for irrigation during the dry season, and consumers who purchase their produce. “I am directly affected, as more often than not, the water in the river appears black and whenever it overflowed its banks, the crops in the valley area starts drying up”. Laraba Yakubu a resident farmer in Juji village complained. She also mentioned that “Juji was also not out of the danger of fumes from the flares, as their doors and windows cannot keep it out of their homes”.

The human and environmental costs of flaring and other oil wastes in the communities highlighted above, which hosts only one oil refinery with two active flaring points is, however, the tip of the iceberg in comparison to that of communities in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria, where there are more than 1000 gas flaring points that release over 23 billion/m3 of gas per annum. Gas flaring in Nigeria continues to worsen the case of global warming. It "has contributed more greenhouse gas emissions than all other sources in sub-Saharan Africa combined" according to the World Bank. In the Niger Delta, it contributes about 13% to the global temperature rise. The combination of toxic substances emitted in some of these flares for over 40 years, pollute the clouds causing a black rain that poisons water sources; thus affecting livelihoods and exposing inhabitant to increased risks of premature deaths, child respiratory illnesses, asthma and cancer, as well as acid rain.

Conservative assumptions using World Bank information on the adverse effect of particulates, suggests that gas flaring from just one part of the Niger Delta (Bayelsa State) would likely cause annually 49 premature deaths, 4,960 respiratory illnesses among children and 120, asthma attacks. The study, however, did not provide estimates for premature death and miscarriage among pregnant women which are also linked to emissions from flares. The toxic substances expose host communities to health risks and property damage, in violation of their human rights because their right to health and to a safe and healthy environment is not respected. This flouts for example, the fundamental rights to life and to dignity guaranteed in Articles 33 and 34 respectively of the Nigerian Constitution. It also violates the rights guaranteed in the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, for example, of every individual to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health (Article 16) and of all peoples to a general satisfactory environment favorable to their development (Article 24).

Regional host communities are caught in the web of gas flaring, dumping of toxic wastes and oil spills. The women are being impoverished by the day through the destruction of the creeks, swamps, farmlands and forests that they depend on for their livelihood; and no one seems to care about their plight. The homes inhabited by these women and their families bear no semblance of the worth of the black gold taken from their ancestral lands and water bodies which now lay polluted. They have over and over again bemoaned the looting of resources in their communities and consequent devastation of their once pristine ancestral lands by insatiable oil merchants. The women are crying themselves hoarse in the face of the flagrant abuse of their rights and innumerable hazards faced by their communities. Some of them even went as far as staging nude protests in order to get the attention of the oil companies and the Nigerian Government.

At a recently held meeting of Host Oil and Gas Communities (Hostcom) Women’s Wing, in Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria, the National Coordinator Evangelist, Carina Gassidy said:
"We women are not satisfied with the conditions of women in the oil producing areas because gas flaring is affecting our women. We are suffering breast cancer and many other diseases. And that is why we are sensitizing our women to take their rightful place in the communities. The woman is a major stakeholder in the family and when we suffer all kinds of disease such as breast cancer due to oil exploration and gas flaring and nobody is doing anything about it, it is certainly unfair. So, we want laws that will protect the health of women in oil producing communities".

For the most part of my childhood, I was intrigued by the sight of the stunning glow that stood out defying the darkness of the sky. It was most enchanting to watch it and fantasize about how it complemented the brilliance of the outlying zillion twinkling stars that decorated the sky with their radiance. By daytime, however, the glow appeared snowed under the brightness of the sun and the accompanying fumes that soared towards the clouds became conspicuous. That was several years ago. I have since learned that the glow is an offspring of a wild fiend known as gas flaring in the ‘crude world’.

Today, as I gazed once again at the blaze from the flares, the now halted dances and euphoric ululations of indigenous women which greeted the discovery of crude oil- black gold in their native soil occupied my mind. In my years of working with grassroots women, I have experienced firsthand and also come across several testimonies that bear witness to the depressing injustice which is happening in the crude oil sector in Nigeria. As a woman, an advocate and concerned global citizen, I am joining in indigenous women’s call for oil producing and or refining countries to enforce stringent environmental regulatory measures on oil companies that still practice gas flaring so as to eradicate gas flaring and the associated problems of crude oil exploration and production before long. I know too well that indigenous women don’t want to just survive; they want to live and thrive!

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

An indigenous Gwari woman in Rido village
Greengirl with Iye an indigenuos Gwari (ethinc group) woman at Rido

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Comments

bitani's picture

nice

I love the humanitarian aspect of your piece, green girl. You may find common points with Iryna's piece on Chernobyl:
http://worldpulse.com/node/75914

lots of love,

Bayan

Greengirl's picture

Hi Bayan

I feel honoured that you read the post and also reached out. Thank you so much too for referring me to Iryna's piece which I decided to read before responding to your comment. You are very right about finding common points with her post. Many thanks to you. I'll certainly take a peep into your journal .Haha!

Cheers,
Greengirl

Hideko N.'s picture

Olanike, I am so glad that

Olanike, I am so glad that you have actually gone to conduct research on this subject. I highly encourage you to continue speaking with strength and power. According to the UN, Niger-Delta petroleum pollution is the worst in history! It is affecting not only Nigeria, but the whole world by the greenhouse effect--I'd suggest that you emphasize this fact. Women and children are the most tragic victims there. Without doubt environmental disaster is the cause of many problems in Nigeria, not only illness, but poverty, witch-craft, ignorance and violence.

When government is not providing compensation for the indigene, how could the people make up so much loss in their lives? ' The women are being impoverished by the day through the destruction of the creeks, swamps, farmlands and forests that they depend on for their livelihood; and no one seems to care about their plight.' because they do not have genuine voice that represent them.

Thank you for sharing the important information. Please check and see our project site also. http://www.swacin.com Click on English and go to project. Let me know what you think about it.
Love,
Hideko N.

Greengirl's picture

Dear Hideko

Nice to hear from you as always!

I am not surprised that you understand the spate of human rights abuse and environmental devastation going on in parts of Nigeria, particularly the Niger Delta region. It is a very sad and worrisome situation! There is an urgent need for intervention, which I hope will happen before long.

Thank you for sharing the swacin link. It is impressive that Environment is listed as one of SWACIN''s Project Focus. I noted with gladness that the First Semi-Annual Conference held as planned; but also felt bad that Judge Teresa had to step down from the Board . I sincerely apologise for having not inquired about the progress made with the conference, before now.

Please feel free to let me know how I can be of help.

Much love,
Greengirl

Ayunnie's picture

A True Environmentalist

Greengirl thank you for standing the test of time. i have seen your passion in addressing environmental issues and its impact on women. Thank you also for bring this story of the gases of crude oil and its impact. Keep up the good work.

@ Nairobi KENYA
Women have impeccable character, if tapped society realizes quantum leap in development

Greengirl's picture

Thank you so much...........

Thank you so much for your heartwarming commendation. Getting pats on the back from a seasoned and committed social crusader like you makes me want to fly higher and higher and never give up until I see that the positive change I strongly desire becomes reality.

God bless you for reading and reaching out to me.

Warmly,
Greengirl

Sarah Whitten-Grigsby's picture

BLESS YOU, GREENGIRL!

Dear Greengirl,

Your writing is so evocative, visual, thought-provoking, strong and excellent, I feel as though I've just read a screen play/ film script. I feel as though I've stood beside you and watched what you once thought, as a child, was "stunning" and later discovered to be toxic and deadly.

Thank Heaven you are so actively concerned and have such an intelligent, caring Voice.

Your piece is gripping and I am particularly startled to learn from you that, 'Gas flaring in Nigeria continues to worsen the case of global warming. It "has contributed more greenhouse gas emissions than all other sources in sub-Saharan Africa combined" according to the World Bank.' Shocking.

So often, a small group of greedy people with no thought for the future* -- *the children! they are the future -- profit, while others suffer terribly.

May this piece get wide readership, and may you continue to make a positive difference to the care of our beloved planet.

With Great Respect,

Sarah

Greengirl's picture

Hello Sarah

I feel bubbly and stronger with your every word!

* the children! they are the future*. As I read this phrase, it reminded me of how as I wrote the piece, my mind questioned the seriousness of world leaders about the celebrated hope for and of "Sustainable Development". It appears that the 7th Millennium Development goal of ensuring environmental sustainability by 2015 needs to be scrutinized in the light of flagrant dehumanization and degradation of resource rich communities.

I really feel very perturbed that a group of helpless people are made to suffer while those who cause their pain keep smiling; and have no interest in changing the status quo. The level of devastation and deprivation, especially in the Niger Delta Region beats imagination. The injustice in the oil sector in Nigeria is GRAVE an I really hope that sanity and justice will prevail sooner than later.

It's gladdening that you think the piece deserves wide readership, and I hope too that it will make a difference.

In appreciation,
Greengirl

MaNnenna's picture

wow

Sis
The article is such a wonderful piece. Keep up the good work and continue to make a big difference in your community.

Greengirl's picture

I am grateful

I am really happy that you found the piece worth reading and even think of it as a 'wonderful piece'. To say the least, I am encouraged by your comment and grateful to you for reaching out.

Best Wishes,
Greengirl

MaNnenna's picture

sis

It really is. I read all your articles each and everyone of it was great. Keep up the great work.

Iryna's picture

Important and urgent

Greengirl, you are speaking about so important and so urgent issue for the whole planet and first of all, of course, for Nigerian people. This method of gas flaring is awful, violent for people and environment. Many countries refuse from this technology because it harms incredibly and produces a lot of greenhouse gas. We really need to stop this!
Another thing I noticed is that again women are the strongest fighters against anything that threatens safety of their families! And all together, I belive, we can make big changes!
Your article is written with a very artistic style, I like so much the way you "paint" the images!
Warmest greetings from Ukraine,
Iryna

Greengirl's picture

Hi Iryna

It's always nice to hear from you! I only did my best to echo my pains and concerns about a situation that is causing a lot of harm to a vast but helpless majority. It is really sad that the Nigerian authorities have not taken any decisive action against the polluting companies, in spite of the level of devastation and continued outcries from within and outside affected communities.

I very much agree with you that ' women are the strongest fighters against anything that threatens the safety of their families'. We must keep hope and faith alive that our seemingly little efforts aimed at calling local, national and global attention to these problems will go a long way to bring about the much desired change.

Iryna, I feel deeply touched that you read the piece and also reached out.

Together we can!
Greengirl

Hana's picture

Inspiring!

Greengirl, I really felt inspired by this piece! Like Iryna said, you do a great job of painting the portraits and landscapes you describe. I feel connected to the people and communities in this piece. I also love your choice of topic, as environmental destruction and the need for safe sources of energy is something EVERYONE can understand and is affected by! My heart was aching when you talked about how the houses and standard of living of the families in the oil and gas host communities do not at all reflect the extremely high value of their land's resources.

Surely providing clean air and a healthy environment for children to grow up in -- or at least not worsening existing conditions -- is the MINIMUM standard to which corporations and governments can be held accountable.

Thank you so much for writing this!

Greengirl's picture

Hello Hana

I sincerely apreciate that you connected with the reality and very essence of the story. The blight of the people in affected comunities is one too many; and it beats my imagination that the government and international oil corporations are doing very little (amounting to nothing) to reverse the trends. I really wish I could wake up one day and hear or see that sanity prevailing.

Each day I wake up and go to bed in hope that change will happen. I don't know how but I'll keep hope alive.

Thank you so much Hana for giving credence to and also fueling that 'Hope' that burns within me.

With high regards,
Greengirl

Dear Greengirl,

Thank you for this very thoughtful and enlightening piece about what it means to live at the frontlines of gas flares in Nigeria. And why is it not a surprise that women are the most affected by this practice and that indigenous women suffer from it at a high level as well.
I wonder what it will take before governments realize that they are destructing the environment, the health of women and children when they could be investing in clean, renewable energy.
Thanks again for your piece and the pictures.
Thanks also for all you do in the region to raise awareness about this horrible practice.

Delphine Criscenzo
Online Training Coordinator
World Pulse
www.worldpulse.com

Greengirl's picture

Thank you so much...........

Thank you so much Delphine for finding time out of your busy schedule to read my post.

The level of devastation in the affected communities, particularly in the Niger Delta region is better seen than heard of. It is a rather pathetic case as the three tiers of government in Nigeria continue to treat the tragic human and environmental costs with kid's gloves. To learn more, or have a visual feel of the dangers that inhabitants are exposed to you may wish to search for videos about the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria on You Tube. I came across this video today, and would like to share the link with you. I am sure it would give you further insight: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bq2TBOHWFRc

I would also like to thank you for the acknowledgement accorded me and my efforts, I only wish I could do more to ensure that change happens. Can you then imagine how inspired and motivated I am to make the most of the 2013 VOF Correspondents training programme? I am enjoying all the walking and talking that has been happening. Haha!

Hugs,
Greengirl

delphine criscenzo's picture

You inspired me!

Thank you so much Greengirl for sharing this video. It inspired me.
It also reminded me that here, in the US, we break into the Earth to extract natural gas. What is wrong with this picture.
I wrote a post about: https://worldpulse.com/node/76509
Maybe you can read it and let me know what you think!
Thanks for the inspiration.
Much love,

Delphine Criscenzo
Online Training Coordinator
World Pulse
www.worldpulse.com

Deb Busser's picture

A very important topic!

Dear Greengirl,
Thank you for lending your voice to what is a very important topic in Nigeria. I appreciated the interviews you did with some of the women who are most affected by this dangerous practice, and the pictures you posted. They are compelling and brought this piece to life. Keep up the great work. The world needs your voice!
Deb

Deb Busser
ENERGY SPRING Leadership
Office: 978.649.1788 * Mobile: 978.790.3909
http://www.linkedin.com/in/debbusser

Greengirl's picture

Thank you Deb!

Yes, I agree with you that the issue of gas flaring is a very important topic. However, it remains under reported, may be because the Nigerian oil sector is a major contributor to the Nigerian economy. The oil sector provides 20% GDP, over 80% of foreign exchange earnings and about 65% of budgetary revenues. With an estimated average production of 2.5 metric barrels and an average price of $113 per barrel, Nigeria's total earnings from Crude Oil Sales is $101.7 billion, that is, N16.272 trillion per annum. It is worthy of note that the oil sector is the highest contributor to Nigeria’s GDP, and crude oil continues to play a prominent role in the economy. .

I therefore find it very difficult to understand/reconcile how and or why the government continues to turn a blind eye to the sufferings of host communities while continuing to benefit from the natural endowments in their ancestral lands. To tell you the truth, I wish the oil will cease flowing so that sanity can prevail in affected communities.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the post. Your words of encouragement gives me strength and courage to keep speaking up about the positive change I envision for women, humanity and our ecosystem.

Appreciatively,
Greengirl

Maura Bogue's picture

Well written

Your article is passionate, well-articulated, and gives a detailed and interesting insight into the issue. The title names women and children as the victims, so maybe in the future consider elaborating on the consequences for children.

Greengirl's picture

Dear Maura

Your comments are always highly appreciated. Thank you so much for calling my attention to the issue of children victims which I did not elaborate on, as much as I did on women. Somehow, I guess I took out some of the information while trying to work within the word limit. I take full responsibility for the mix up. For the sake of those who will still read the post, I will just go ahead and edit the title.

The observation is well noted, and be assured that I have taken it to heart and account, and will do my best to avoid such oversight/ mix up in my future writings.

Appreciatively,

Greengirl

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