South Sudan’s deadly toll of oil contamination

Ministers and MPs decry deformed babies, miscarriages, ailments; call for systematic health study and an end to the revenues freeze-out

by Francis Michael

We Are Witness

Front-line journalists in South Sudan

January 29, 2019

The government of South Sudan and international companies are busy ramping up oil production.

Officials in the oil-producing regions are, in turn, struggling to deal with the deadly legacy of past operations – and trying desperately to get these companies to implement the measures needed to safeguard the health of their people and environment.

“We have strong physical evidence of the negative effects of oil wastes and spills in the oil-producing regions: incidents of congenital malformation among babies, as well as numbers of miscarriages and still-born infants in the oil regions. This is joined by reports of large numbers of other oil contamination-caused ailments,” states Simon Chol, the minister of health of South Sudan’s Northern Liech state.

Chol adds: “What is needed is the conducting of a study that would cover all of the oil regions’ people. This assessment would enable us to find out how extensive these deaths and ailments are in relation to the population as a whole.”

Chol concludes: “We in the oil-producing regions are now waiting to see if the increase in oil production will sooner or later yield a corresponding rise in cases of health damaging.”

Chol’s call for a study is being complemented by MPs in oil regions’ demands for their constituents’ getting a fair share of oil revenues.

As one MP, Boai Keke, stated in Eye Radio: “My constituents have yet to benefit from oil revenues. And this even though South Sudan’s constitution’s 15th Amendment allocates 2% of oil revenues to such regions.”

While local officials and MPs have been protesting the oil industry’s past misdeeds, Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, South Sudan’s minister of petroleum has been occupying himself with the reopening of wells, states Lam Tongwar, minister of information of Northern Liech state.

The calls and demands may in fact be having an impact on Gatkuoth and his ministry.

According to a source working for an oil company, the minister interrogated corporate executives of the company while he was visiting an oil field in the Upper Nile region. The minister supposedly demanded that the managers delineate the extent, causes and ramifications of the company’s environmentally-damaging activities.

This questioning pressured the company into admitting such activities, which have included the failure to adequately treat waste water.

Including the misuse of chemicals and their being allowed to flow on and seep into the ambient environment, such practices had also highly detrimental effects on oil production, states a spokesperson for South Sudan’s ministry of petroleum.

The ministry has pledged to couple the ongoing ramping up of oil production with a beefing up of the protection of the environment. Based on the past three decades’ widespread flouting of environmental standards, the people living in oil producing-regions remain highly skeptical.

Photograph: Francis Michael | Facilities leaking oil-based mixtures into the environment 

Statement by concerned South Sudanese student

The tragedy of oil pollution in South Sudan: a time for urgent action – statement by concerned South Sudanese student

The tragedy of oil pollution in South Sudan: a time for urgent action

by Kor Chop Leek

Kor Chop Leek is a concerned citizen of South Sudan. He is pursuing a master’s degree in humanitarian and conflict studies korpuoch@gmail.com.

The following is a summary of Kor’s authoritative article on oil pollution in South Sudan, which is to be found here.

The author’s key points:

Oil’s pollution of water has jeopardized the lives of more than 600,000 people in the Upper Nile region. The degree of environmental damage being experienced in the region’s Tharjath, Unity, and Paloch oil fields is beyond description.

Birth malformations and incidence of new diseases are being produced by the poisoning of drinking water by oil chemicals.  The rates of these ailments keeps on rising. In one incident reported in Paloich, a mother gave birth to a child lacking eyes, nose, and genitals. Such malformations are  the results of the alteration of DNA by the chemicals in oil, which are easily taken up in the soil. These alterations are then passed along the food and water chains. Residents of communities located in or near oilfields join oil workers in being the prime victims of these contamination-produced alterations, which, along with effects arising from contact with the toxic materials contained in oil and its wastes, also give rise to infertility and kidney failures, as reported by the health care facilities in those locations.

Such serious concerns are neither being registered nor reported. The author believes that the companies operating in the oil fields are well aware of the damage being wrought by their activities. They know that people lack clean drinking water, with this including those forced to flee their ravaged communities. The companies are fully aware of the oil spills, of the produced water generated, and of the drill fluids and oil chemicals poorly disposed in the fields. In many cases, these toxic materials are consigned to shallow pits that are not lined with the requisite plastic sheets – and are often not even fenced in.

The oil companies are aware that they have caused the unspeakable pollution of the environment, and of this pollution’s effects on the environment, animals and the people. The companies appreciate and take full advantage of the South Sudanese government’s lack of the institutional capacity and will to investigate or to track such violations.

The people affected are often not aware of how they are being victimized. They are also not cognizant of their rights, or how to assert them.

The author is issuing a call for a ‘Water Bill of Rights’ for South Sudan
Urgently needed are the following steps

(1) Provision of clean water to the people affected by the oil activities. This is the responsibility of the oil companies.

(2) Forming of a committee of experts and commissioning them with the conducting of a country-wide assessment of the extent and level of damages stemming from produced water, other oil wastes and chemicals, and oil spills. This committee is to also track how all these are being disposed of.

(3) Performing a South Sudan-wide assessment of the health of the people living in and around its oil fields – by the taking of a large number of samples of victim hair and blood, and of their communities’ soil, plants and water.

(4) Sensitizing communities affected to the dangers from and to the extent of oil contamination of their land and water.

(5) Making oil companies perform the bioremediation of the environments that they have contaminated, with this to include the rendering harmless of abandoned oil wells and related facilities.

 

The full text of Kor’s article is available here.

Needed: Water Bill of Rights for South Sudan

Hard-hitting and exhaustive look at oil’s pollution of water in South Sudan

From We Are Witness member Kor Chop Leek

Published on nyamile.com on January 23rd 2019

The author’s key points:

Oil’s pollution of water has jeopardized the lives of more than 600,000 people in the Upper Nile region. The degree of environmental damage being experienced in the region’s Tharjath, Unity, and Paloch oil fields is beyond description.

Birth malformations and incidence of new diseases are being produced by the poisoning of drinking water by oil chemicals.  The rates of these ailments keeps on rising. In one incident reported in Paloich, a mother gave birth to a child lacking eyes, nose, and genitals. Such malformations are  the results of the alteration of DNA by the chemicals in oil, which are easily taken up in the soil. These alterations are then passed along the food and water chains. Residents of communities located in or near oilfields join oil workers in being the prime victims of these contamination-produced alterations, which, along with effects arising from contact with the toxic materials contained in oil and its wastes, also give rise to infertility and kidney failures, as reported by the health care facilities in those locations.

Such serious concerns are neither being registered nor reported. The author believes that the companies operating in the oil fields are well aware of the damage being wrought by their activities. They know that people lack clean drinking water, with this including those forced to flee their ravaged communities. The companies are fully aware of the oil spills, of the produced water generated, and of the drill fluids and oil chemicals poorly disposed in the fields. In many cases, these toxic materials are consigned to shallow pits that are not lined with the requisite plastic sheets – and are often not even fenced in.

The oil companies are aware that they have caused the unspeakable pollution of the environment, and of this pollution’s effects on the environment, animals and the people. The companies appreciate and take full advantage of the South Sudanese government’s  lack of the institutional capacity and will to investigate or to track such violations.

The people affected are often not aware of how they are being victimized. They are also not cognizant of their rights, or how to assert them.

The author is issuing a call for a ‘Water Bill of Rights’ for South Sudan

Urgently needed are the following steps

(1). Provision of clean water to the people affected by the oil activities. This is the responsibility of the oil companies.

(2) Forming of a committee of experts and commissioning them with the conducting of a country-wide assessment of the extent and level of damages stemming from produced water, other oil wastes and chemicals, and oil spills. This committee is to also track how all these are being disposed of.

(3) Performing a South Sudan-wide assessment of the health of the people living in and around its oil fields  – by the taking of a large number of samples of victim hair and blood, and of their communities’ soil, plants and water.

(4) Sensitizing communities affected to the dangers from and to the extent of oil contamination of their land and water.

(5) Making oil companies perform the bioremediation of the environments that they have contaminated, with this to include the rendering harmless of abandoned oil wells and related facilities.

 

South Sudan MPs: stop forsaking people in oilfields

South Sudan MPs call for government to stop forsaking people living in oilfields

Needed: jobs, compensation, infrastructure, services, medical treatment – and an end to the contamination by oil wastes of water and land

By Joseph Oduha
January 17, 2019

Buay Keke, a member of the South Sudan National Transitional Assembly, has issued searing accusations. Recipient of these: the country’s government.

In Keke’s opinion, the government has “forsaken” the hundreds of thousands of people who reside in South Sudan’s oil-rich Upper Nile region.

Keke’s key point: instead of partaking in and thus profiting from the vast amounts of revenues being generated in the region’s oil fields, the people are being condemned to poverty and exposed to the pollution emanating from oil wastes, leaks and chemicals issuing from facilities and pipelines.

“The pumping of oil in the Upper Nile region is yielding no tangible benefits for its communities. Oil-generated revenues could be going to build schools and roads in the region – and could be generating jobs and other opportunities, with these especially being for young,” Mr. Keke was quoted saying in an Eye Radio broadcast.

Keke went on to note that the exploration for oil and the exploitation of it have instead seriously damaged the environment, and have exposed people to health risks.

Keke’s call for revenue sharing is based on a stipulation found in the South Sudan Transitional Constitution. The latter states that at least two percent of the revenues issuing from the pumping of oil is to be channeled to the communities in which this is being carried out.

Of particular concern in the country: the effects of the pollution of water by oil wastes.

Last year, South Sudan government confirmed that more than 500,000 people living in country’s north had been forced by oil pollution’s effects to leave their homes.

Mr. James Lual, a South Sudanese MP and the head of the Petroleum and Mining Committee at the country’s National Legislative Assembly, recently issued a report on the magnitude of the oil pollution-caused crisis.

Lual reported that the contamination of water sources has caused several outbreaks of as yet unidentified diseases. These are affecting both human beings and animals.

These diseases have caused a number of women to give birth to deformed babies, with others suffering miscarriages.

In his report, Mr. Lual proposed the relocation of the victims of oil pollution (with this including their livestock) to sites along the Nile River. In his view, this is the best way to safeguard the health of humans and their animals. The alternative would be remediation of the contaminated land and water – an expensive and uncertain option.

Paul Yoanes is also a member of the Transitional Legislative Assembly. Yoanes heads the Assembly’s Information and Communication Committee.

Yoanes has joined the legions of legislators calling for an end to the oil pollution in South Sudan.

Yoanes has also come out in favor of a Bill of Water Rights for the people of South Sudan.

“I am of course all for guaranteeing the rights of the people of South Sudan to clean water – and to water that is safely and easily retrieved. This especially applies to those living in oil-producing area. Water is life,” Yoanes states.

Media crackdown continues in South Sudan!

Help us protect the truth-tellers!

Death threats to South Sudan journalist covering Sudan unrest

By Joseph Oduha
January 18, 2019

Unless the world’s media comes to his aid, Michael Christopher could well become the 14th South Sudanese journalist killed for daring to present facts that displease the country’s government.

Christopher is editor-in-chief of Al-Watan, an Arabic-language daily published in Juba, which is the capital of South Sudan.

Like much of Africa’s media, Al-Watan has been covering the unrest sweeping Sudan.

This coverage earned Christopher an order from the South Sudan Media Authority. It was issued on January 7th, and commanded him to apologize within 72 hours to the government of Sudan for having been “supportive of the unrest” – and to desist from reporting on it.

Christopher refused to do such, stating that this coverage was SOP (standard operating procedure) for any newspaper in the region.

Christopher’s refusal to apologize triggered a spate of telephone calls. Each was from an unknown caller and number, all the calls had the same chilling message: ‘you are going to face the music for not having apologized.’

“Late on Friday, someone called me and stated that “we gave you 72 hours to write a letter of apology. Since you didn’t do that, you will bear all the consequences,” Mr. Christopher stated in an interview broadcast on Juba’s Eye Radio station.

As the past amply shows, such threats are unfortunately to be taken very seriously. Nearly all of the 13 journalists killed in South Sudan since the country’s gaining of independence in 2011 received such warnings prior to being murdered. Provided by the US embassy in Juba, this figure makes South Sudan one of the most dangerous countries in the world for reporters.

Christopher is by no means the only journalist whose life and work have come under threat. Quite the opposite.

Government-initiated harassment has caused a number of Christopher’s colleagues to give up their profession and to flee the country.

This harassment is a follow-up to the ban issued last week by the South Sudan Media Authority, which proclaimed a prohibition on the coverage of the unrest in Sudan.

“The ongoing protests in Sudan are internal affairs of a friendly nation. As such, the media in South Sudan are not to write or broadcast instigative statements and comments about it,” stated Sapana Abuyi, the Authority’s acting director.

Keeping truth tellers safe in South Sudan

Urgent call to protect truth-tellers in South Sudan from government crackdown on media, NGOs and activists

To our courageous, committed friends in South Sudan:

we will do everything in our power to keep you safe – and to keep you telling your important truths

Panicky government launches campaign of oppression against NGOs, activists and media trying to uncover and deal with crimes against humanity and environment being routinely committed in South Sudan.

It is a horrible truth:

South Sudanese women are being raped while searching for clean water for their families.

And one big reason why the women’s searches are so long and difficult and thus risky is that many of the wells in the women’s villages are contaminated with lead and other pollutants spewed into the ground water by such greedy oil companies as Petronas and China National Petroleum – the same companies that are now ramping up production in the country.

It is a horrible truth that the government of South Sudan does not want known.

To prevent it from getting out, the government has cracked down on Médecins Sans Frontières. This world-renowned provider of emergency  medical treatment had issued a report detailing the rapes perpetrated in Bentiu County, which is located – in a total lack of coincidence – in an oil-producing region.
For more information:
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-southsudan-violence/unknown-gunmen-rape-125-women-in-south-sudan-aid-agency-idUSKCN1NZ24D

This crack-down is reportedly part of a systematic campaign launched by the government of South Sudan to prevent the unrest gripping Sudan from spreading to its neighbor to the south. Encompassing other humanitarian organizations in South Sudan and the country’s media, the campaign is based on the government’s – well-founded – fear that its people could be as fed up with its corruption and failure to run the country as those of its neighbor to the north.

For more information:

https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/ea/Activists-decry-Juba-ban-on-media-coverage-of-Sudan-unrest/4552908-4927594-ib54c2/index.html?fbclid=IwAR2kxBBbw3EoNm-Jtutv1lPafwaHI4-trjuu3P7VMOBrRA-m-47bKw_JuLg

We at For South Sudan call upon our colleagues in the media to ensure that the world follows these stories, as this coverage is the best way of preventing further killings and intimidation of aid workers, activists and journalists.

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James Ross

New sculptures from 10th century

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James Ross

The Cultural exchange in 11th Century

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James Ross

How Roman’s made the great Sculpture

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James Ross