Unpaid debts and grave harm: oil production and pollution in South Sudan

by Kor Chop Leek
Kor Chop Leek is a paramedic. He is pursuing a master’s degree in humanitarian and conflict studies korpuoch@gmail.com.

On April 23, 2019, Anataban, the Juba-based artists’ collective, released “Black Tide”. Now available on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZM5Z3xuDek4 and created with the support of Sign of Hope, the humanitarian organization, the video depicted the impact of oil pollution on the people and the environment. The pollution’s contamination of water and thus soil has made fields unfit for cultivation, has caused forests to die, and has wrecked the health of the South Sudanese and their livestock.

Two recent encounters made me painfully aware of the truth of the messages contained in Black Tide.

The first encounter was with a young man who works for an international organization with which I am also associated.

This man hails from Koch county, which is located in the former Unity state, and which is one of South Sudan’s main oil-producing regions. I posed the following question to him: was he aware of oil pollution in his home?

He said “It is something that simply can’t be overseen. It is to be seen with the naked eye, everywhere.” He went on to tell me that the launching of oil production in his family’s homeland has caused the deaths of nine members of his family, with these victims including his father and step-mother. To save themselves, the surviving members of the man’s family abandoned their ancestral land and moved to Mayendit county.

The second encounter was with a baby girl, some six months old and desperately ill. Her mother had brought her all the way from Unity State to a clinic in Juba where I work to get treatment for her daughter’s fever, diarrhea and vomiting – and for her gravest of problems – an abnormal anal opening. My assumption was and is that the baby’s health problems were caused by oil pollution. It turned out that the baby family lived close to oil production facilities, for whose security forces the husband had worked.

As of this writing, the baby’s fate remains uncertain.

“Black Tide” powerfully communicated the unremarked suffering being experienced by the South Sudanese  – and the need for them and stakeholders everywhere to rise up against it.

The author of this article is adding his voice to this campaign’s growing number.

The oil companies have wracked up debts. They owe the people of South Sudan clean water, remediated farmland, medical treatment, compensation, education and infrastructure.

And now is the time to pay these debts – and for the oil companies to live up to their own and international standards of environmental protection.

I am calling upon the oil companies to do this – and upon Sign of Hope to continue its support of the people and the groups fighting for a healthy environment and livable lives in South Sudan.

And, most importantly, I am calling up the government of South Sudan to expeditiously address the environmental crisis prevailing in the country’s oil-producing regions.

Kor’s overview of the history and effects of oil production in South Sudan is available here:


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