Unprecedented statements by Josephine Napon Cosmos, South Sudan’s minister of the environment:
Oil pollution is killing large numbers of South Sudanese.
South Sudan has to make a choice: keep on tolerating oil pollution – and watching more and more people die, or take on the oil companies – presumably in court.
Greed has been driving the government’s handling of oil companies, which have been systematically ignoring environmental protection laws.
‘Oil is killing our people because of money’ – Environment minister
The minister of environment and forestry, Josephine Napon Cosmos, on Tuesday said the oil companies were polluting the environment and killing people there because of money, warning the companies to embrace environmental and safety best practices in the oilfields.
Previously scientific studies linked oil exploration and extraction to polluting groundwater and the environment in oil-producing areas in South Sudan. Civilians living near oil facilities have blamed oil activities for causing diseases in cattle and humans besides causing miscarriages among women.
According to observers, none of the environmental transparency provisions of the Petroleum Act 2012 are being enforced, in particular a requirement that oil spills and leaks be disclosed to affected communities.
“I am appealing, not an appeal, but it is a must that the oil companies comply with the regulations of the environment because I personally have visited the oil fields and what is reflected in the oil fields is not what we talk about here. The pollution is real and our people are dying at the expense of getting money,” Minister Napon said at a press conference in Juba on Tuesday.
She cautioned the oil companies and said her ministry has a right to protect the public and shut them down. “The lives of our people matter and I would like this company to take this into consideration otherwise if what I have said is not taken into consideration, we have the right as a ministry to stop the operations,” Minister Napon warned. “So we have to choose whether our people die or we get money at their expenses. We have a right and we will put a case against the companies that have gone astray.”
Napon said the people in the oilfields were dying and experiencing health complications due to pollution. “Many people have lost their lives, many women are victims and they are giving birth to children who are deformed. Children who will not be leaders in this country any longer because they are already born when they are not human beings. So these companies one day will be answerable,” Minister Napon warned.
According to the minister, her ministry has tried to call the oil companies but they have been adamant. “We have called them sometime back but we reached somewhere, I think because of conflict of interest they decided to sideline the Ministry of Environment when they were called. My brothers and sisters working in those companies we need you to cooperate because if we file a case against you that will be your end in the Republic of South Sudan,” Napon said.
The environment minister warned that the past silence of her ministry should not be misconstrued. “I am outing this very clearly, our silence does not mean we are following the Ministry of Petroleum. I know many people may be saying here that is why the Ministry called me here because they cannot do it alone,” Napon said.
“It is actually supposed to be purely the work of the Ministry of Environment but because we are one, we came together and that is why you have seen what has just happened here and those companies who are going to take a lead who are going to take this chance, they have to give us the best results,” she added.
The minister cautioned that profit and conflict of interest should not jeopardize the lives of the citizens. “We should not have a conflict of interest in dealing with the lives of the people of South Sudan. I know many people will come and say give me my portion, give me this, then I will do everything for you. My dear brothers who will get the chance, never be deceived, never get the money at the expense of our people in the Republic of South Sudan,” Napon concluded.