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 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.