WINDHOEK: The Southern African region should guard against environmental terrorism such as that seen in the Niger Delta where oil spills, pollution, gas flaring, militancy and criminality are common sights.
“The Niger Delta is a delta of fire. We do not want the situation to repeat. Like an untreated wound, despair has broken into rage due to insensitivity by government and oil companies,” Joseph Ajayi of the United Nations’ Environmental Programme (UNEP) Abidjan Convention Secretariat said on Tuesday.
He was speaking during a presentation titled ‘Environmental Tourism in the West and Central African Region’ at the opening of a three-day Southern Africa Region Environmental Security (EnSec) symposium at a local hotel.
Ajayi said greed and neglect have ‘made the region a zone of violence and death’, while citizens have been deprived of a good life and clean environment.
The big players in the oil and gas industry there are Shell (Dutch), Chevron Corporation (America), Exxonmobil (America), General Italian Oil Company (Italy), Total-Elfina (French) and the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company Limited (NPDC) – the biggest polluters, according to Ajayi.
He went on to state that environmental terrorism is fuelled by lucrative ransoms from kidnapping businesses, especially employees from these companies who become victims of such operations.
The Niger Delta, the delta of the Niger River in Nigeria which is sometimes called the ‘Oil Rivers’, is an oil-rich region and has been at the centre of international controversy over devastating pollution and loss of ecosystems, as well as human rights’ violations.
Nigeria, which is home to about 162 million people, has become Africa’s biggest producer of petroleum, with a number of oil wells in the ‘Oil Rivers’.
The environmental effects of an oil spill include pollution of onshore and offshore waters; damage to cultivated land; physical and chemical changes to habitats; increase in toxicity, leading to mortality and a decline of species; as well as the displacement of humans, species and a disruption of the food chain.
Ajayi said the Niger Delta is also a region of under-studied biodiversity.
He hailed Namibia’s environmental policy framework – Article 95 (l) of the Constitution – and said every country in the world should have strategies in place to be used in order to strengthen respect for environmental values, taking into account the existing social, cultural and economic situation.
“Environmental terrorism is a huge, lucrative, but dangerous business by organised militant groups in the region. Laws on restoration of oil spill sites are vague and obsolete. Military operations in complex areas cannot ignore the politics, humanitarian issues and environmental questions that may arise,” he added.
Delegates attending the symposium are from Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Lesotho, Swaziland, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi and Namibia.
The event is co-hosted by the United States’ (US) Africa Command Environmental Security Program and the UNEP Abidjan Convention Secretariat, and is sponsored by the US Department of Defence in partnership with the US Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).