On a visit to Nigeria to meet with the Government on ending delays in cleaning up major oil contamination in the Ogoniland region of the country, a special envoy of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said national collaboration was critical for the effort.
“We can only ensure long-term environmental sustainability through dialogue, confidence and trust, and it is in this mindset that I lead the UNEP team here this week,” Erik Solheim, UNEP Special Envoy for disasters and conflicts, said of his visit to Abuja and Port Harcourt a year and a half after the agency presented a scientific assessment of the pollution in Ogoniland to the Government, underlining serious public health and environmental impacts that would worsen with time.
The independent scientific assessment, carried out over a 14-month period, showed greater and deeper pollution than previously thought after an agency team examined more than 200 locations, surveyed 122 kilometres of pipeline rights of way, analyzed 4,000 soil and water samples, reviewed more than 5,000 medical records and engaged over 23,000 people at local community meetings.
The assessment emphasized the need for swift action to prevent the pollution footprint from spreading further and exacerbating the situation for the Ogoni people, and had proposed an initial sum of $1 billion to cover the first five years of clean-up operations.
“Continued delay in the implementation of the recommendations will not only undermine the livelihoods of the Ogoni communities, but will also cause the pollution footprint to expand. In the long run, the findings of the study itself will become dated,” UNEP said in a press release.
The assessment had also estimated that while some on-the-ground results could be immediate, a fully sustainable recovery of Ogoniland could take 25 to 30 years and would require long-term financing.
In July 2012, the Nigerian authorities announced that it would establish the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project, a government initiative that would fully implement UNEP’s recommendations to clean up the area.