By Joseph Oduha
The government of South Sudan has promised to make environmental pollution a thing of the past in the country’s oil-producing Upper Nile region.
The promise was issued by Ezekiel Lul Gatkuoth, South Sudan’s minister of petroleum and mining. He stated that the South Sudanese government has directed the companies exploring for and producing oil in the region to be “mindful of environmental pollution”.
The minister made the statement during the ceremony accompanying the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between his ministry and Petronas, the Malaysian oil giant. The ceremony was held in Juba. The MOU permits Petronas to pump oil in new blocks (1, 2 and 4). These are located in the Heglig area, which is situated on the country’s border with Sudan.
South Sudan announced the commencement of production of oil in the new regions last month.
Mr. Ezekiel said that all oil companies – whether they foreign or locally-owned – have to abide by the country’s laws on the protection of the environment.
He added that the oil companies are obliged to give back to the communities in and around oil fields services. Entailed in this ‘good corporate citizenship’ are the ensuring or restoring of local residents’ health, and, as well, their access to clean water, good roads and education – among other things.
“Yes, the issue of assuring the protection of the environment is of paramount importance. The agreement we signed today covers this. It is a win-win for all of us (government and oil companies),” announced the minister.
The minister’s statement was preceded by the releasing of shocking figures on the number of people – allegedly 500,000 – displaced in the Upper Nile region by chronic oil contamination.
The minister acknowledged the truth of the report but said it was exaggerated.