The Niger delta is situated in Nigeria, and is the largest wetland in Africa. The delta is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, and has four ecological zones, which include the coastal barrier islands,the mangrover forest, the swamps and the rainforest. It is also home to 20 million (some sources say 31million) people, which live on fisheries and agriculture.
But in 1958, oil drilling started here, and this tropical wonderland transformed to one of the worst polluted area in the world.
In 1958 oil drilling started in the Niger delta. People were poor here, and they thought the oil would give them a better life. But instead it just got worse. Under Nigerian law, the people of the delta wore not entitled to any of the profits made by the oil companies, while drilling on their land. Also, because the people who live in the delta are so poor, the oil companies can just bribe their way out of any environmental damage they do here. It´s been estimated that between 9-13 million barrels (1 barrel=159 liters) of oil has been spilled since the oil industry first came.
During the deepwater horizon oil spill, which happened in 2010 outside the coast of Louisiana, 4900-barrels of oil was spilled. It means that the Niger delta has been experiencing oilspills the size of the deepwater horizon
During the Kuwait oil spills (which was an act of sabotage by Saddam hussaine during the gulfwar) , which counts as the single largest oil spill in history, 1 million barrels of oil were spilled. That is still just 7,7% of the oil that has been spilled in the Niger delta.
Oil spills happen in Niger delta mostly because of outdated pipelines, which during the years has corroded and started leaking. Now because the oil companies make so much money, they don´t care if some of their oil is lost to leakages, they still make profit.
The second most common reason to oil spills is sabotage, and the oil companies has blamed these sabotages to be the reason for so many oil spills, and completely covering up the part of outdated pipelines, and the need to repair them.
An other environmental issue in the Niger delta is gas flaring. Despite being regulated in Nigeria since 1984, gas flaring is still common in Nigeria, and is regularly used by the oil giants. Gas flaring means to burn the gas that comes with the oil that is pumped up. Gas flare releases harmful gases such as nitrogen dioxid (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and benzene (which can lead to cancer). Now despite the fact that the oil companies could make money by selling, instead of burning this gas, they still choose not to because they already make enough money.
The consequences of pollution in the Niger delta is enormous. The water has been contaminated, which has led to reduced fish stock. Fishing is one of the most common occupation in the Niger delta, and the disappearance of fish in parts of the delta has led to high rate of unemployment. The same story for farmers, crops wont grow on polluted fields. If people can´t farm, or fish, then how are they suppose to eat or get their daily income. Most people here never got an education, so the most likely thing to happen to people who live in an polluted area, is that they will end up in the slums.
The contaminated water, has also led to poor quality drinking water. It has been estimated that around 60% of the deaths in the oil communities of the delta, is caused by poor drinking water.
Another environmental issue caused by the oil industry, is the dredging to make channels for the oil tankers. When dredging, the oil companies excavate large quantaties of soil, to make room for the channels, and then dump it on the side of the channels. In the mangroove forest of the delta, the soil consists of pyrite (feS2) .
When escavated and dumped on land, pyrite reacts with oxygen. The dumped soil then leaks out in the mangroove and there reacts with water (mangrooves are forests that are regularly flooded by increased rains and tidals), and then becomes acidic. If the soil is to acidic, plants cant grove there.
If the water is to acidic, fish can’t live there.
- Chemical reaction that happens when canals are dredged
- 2 FeS2 + 9 O2 + 4 H2O → 8 H+ + 4 SO42− + 2 Fe(OH)3 (solid)
- The niger delta is a very sensetive eco system, and even the smallest disturbance, can have conseqences. Animals such as the manatee and the pygmy hippopotamous that used to thrive here, are now endangered.
Not all bad
But you can’t just stop drilling oil in the delta. After all, oil production acounts for 40% of Nigerias gdp, and accounts for 95% of Nigerias exports.
The oil industry also gives people a chance to get out of poverty, and become part of the growing middle class.
The Nigerian middle class (people who earn 350€-475€ a month) accounts for 23% of Nigerias 158 million population. That means that more than 36 million Nigerians, more people than in the entire of Canada, have a middle class income today.
The wealthy Nigerians invest money in luxury hotels and highrise buildings, instead of helping people out of poverty.
But povery still thrives
But at the same time, some 60% of the population lives in poverty, most of them rural.
Nigeria used to be an agriculturel nation, but in the 1980 the government choosed to focus on oil exploatation instead. Since then, Nigeria has come from an food exporter, to a big importer of food. As an result, 91 million Nigerians are food insecure, and 5 million children in Nigeria suffer from malnutrion.
People from rural communities come to the city in search of a better life,but instead end up in the slums, were they live under terrible conditions.
What should be done
The Nigerian government has to find a way to give all Nigerians a piece of the welfare and the growth that the country is experiencing.
And above all, face the environmental problems of the delta paradise, that fell down to hell.
By Aleksej,Filip,Therese and Astrid.