23 March 2009

Kono community report

March 21st & 22nd, Kono, Khana Kingdom, Ogoniland

Shell Yorla oil well number nine blew up in May, 2008 causing a substantial oil spill. It was so bad that the creek source, five villages away, had to be dammed to keep the spill from spreading further. The head of the Community Development Committee, produced letters they had been sending to Shell, the regional government, the Ministry of Environment and so on. Nobody has yet to take any action or responsibility. When asked how much oil had spilled, the CDC representatives said they had no idea and that the government urged them to spend 25,000 dollars of their own money to have an environmental impact study done.

The spill has created hunger and has polluted the water severely. This latter issue was borne out upon visiting one of the town wells. The water it produced was yellow and cloudy. The CDC rep said that people ignorantly went on drinking it anyway even though it was dangerous, but admitted that there was no alternative. In the center of the village we inspected a water pump that had been installed by some straw companies as a way to pacify the locals. None of the 12 throughout the village worked or ever has.

Beyond the macroeconomic problems of the Nigerian nation, the main issues faced in Kono are:

- A lack of access to clean drinking water. There have been problems to due seepage from oil installations that have polluted the surface water and underlying tables. The recent spill has made things much worse.

- Health complications and lack of access to care. Eye and stomach problems are prevalent in the community as a result of prolonged exposure to contaminants. Chest and lung problems are also common from continued aspiration of toxic particles. The predecessor to the NDDC built a heath clinic in the town but never sent a doctor

- Food scarcity and contamination. Kono is a predominantly a fishing and farming village. We spoke to the sister-in-law of a man who died from eating contaminated cassava over a period of time. Everyone agreed that the town’s land has been ruined, making it impossible to farm, and that the creeks have been polluted to such an extent that fish and snail populations have been deeply reduced.

- Migration to the city. We met with scores of villagers who had moved to Port Harcourt looking for work in the absence of any alternative in Kono. Most have not been able to find any due to lack of appropriate skills and tribal discrimination. We visited one small room that housed nine alone.

The Kono authorities are calling on the Shell Petroleum Development Company to come and clean up their mess. Specifically, they want a professional, international company with experience to come and do the work. They are also asking for an economic development center that will give local youth a chance to prepare themselves. Finally, some of the farmers are asking for compensation for crops that have been destroyed. They are fully prepared to take a peaceful approach to negotiations but are tiring of the lack of attention from the company and the government authorities.

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