Niger Delta oil spillages have a devastating human impact. Women with Hope, a small Birmingham charity for women caught up in the UK immigration system includes within its purposes the provision of a safe space in which women can relax, learn and reflect. A wealth of evidence testifies to the particular harms and disadvantages faced by women migrants, both in terms of their experiences in their various countries of origin and in the countries in which they subsequently seek sanctuary. Immigration detention and not being believed are just two of the additional traumas that so many women face once they arrive in the UK. Their need for a safe space to talk about these and other experiences and be heard is extremely important. It was in just such a space that Gloria’s story of life in the Niger Delta emerged.
Gloria is a member of Women with Hope and she told a recent meeting the story of her village in the local government area of Ughelli. Village people in Ughelli rely on fishing and horticulture for their existence and are very much affected and disadvantaged by oil spills from local drilling operations. Fish in the river are dying and the soil is damaged to such an extent that the usual staple crops cannot be grown. Many people like Gloria herself have left the area to seek a better life elsewhere, although Gloria still has relatives including her mother, trying to live in the village. The effects on local women who are left behind are quite devastating and they remain in need of help and support. It was that particular need that Gloria was highlighting in her story. Her aim is to galvanise support here in the UK to help the women still living in the Niger Delta to have a better life, but of course she is quite unable to do any of that herself until she completes her own difficult journey through the UK immigration system, and achieves documented status.
The Niger Delta is one of the world’s major hydrocarbon provinces; specifically, it ranks 12th in terms of known accumulation of hydrocarbons with reserves exceeding 34 billion barrels of oil and 93 trillion cubic feet of gas.( Delta Field (Niger Delta: Wikipedia) Since 2014 Eni has reported 820 spills in the Niger Delta, with 26,286 barrels or 4.1 million litres lost. Since 2011, Shell has reported 1,010 spills, with 110,535 barrels or 17.5 million litres lost. That’s about seven Olympic swimming pools. (Amnesty International)
According to a study conducted by public health scientists Best Ordinioha and Seiyefa Brisibe, the oil spills could lead to a 60% reduction in household food security and were capable of reducing the ascorbic acid content of vegetables by as much as 36% and the crude protein content of cassava by 40%. These could result in a 24% increase in the prevalence of childhood malnutrition.
13 Nov 2017 Wilderness (https://www.wilderness.org/articles/blog/7-ways-oil-and-gas-drilling-bad-environment#) identifies seven ways in which drilling harms the environment Drilling disrupts wildlife habitat. … Oil spills can be deadly to animals. … Air and water pollution hurt local communities. … Dangerous emissions contribute to climate change. … Oil and gas development ruins pristine landscapes. … Fossil fuel extraction turns visitors away. … Light pollution is impacting wildlife and wilderness.
Gloria’s story clearly raises a number of issues, but here I briefly consider two that have relevance for community and personal security. The first concerns the responsibilities of the drilling companies towards the local communities in which they work and the second concerns the way in which we in the UK treat people from environmentally degraded regions who have come to this country to seek a better life. Oil drilling companies have a moral obligation to address all local harms and detriments resulting from oil spillages, regardless of who they believe to be responsible for any one particular spill. In reality spills simple could not occur if there were no drilling in the first place. Oil spills do not just threaten local communities and environments; they are a threat to us all as Wilderness clearly identifies.
In the Global North we tend to treat climate change as if it were still a threat that we might possibly avert, without any recognition of the fact that the security of the Global South is already severely undermined by its effects. My second concern is the treatment of new migrants to the UK within an asylum and immigration system that is openly and avowedly inhumane and hostile. The system itself, the media and a number of politicians demonise those seeking a better life, usually with scant regard for the circumstances in which migration is taking place.
It is rarely if ever popularly reported or discussed that the degradation of the environments that many are leaving behind is a result of the needs, wants and greed of the Global North of which the UK is part. Instead, the immigration system and large sections of the public are content to ignore important drivers of migration and leave far too many migrants existing in a limbo of uncertainty without permission to work for many years. The effect of this is damaging to their physical and mental health, degrading at a personal and individual level and it also deprives them yet again of opportunities to improve their own lives and make the contributions that so many are desperate to make towards the improvement of the lives of those left behind, the focus and emphasis of Gloria’s story.