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The Daily Need

Cleaning up Nigeria’s oily mess

Kome Okwaghecha dries her tapioca near a gas flare belonging to Shell oil company in Warri, Nigeria, in 2006. Photo: AP/George Osodi

This morning, the United Nations released a long-awaited report, which claims that cleanup efforts in the Niger Delta could span 30 years and require a restoration fund of as much as $1 billion.

Nigeria, one of the world’s largest producers of oil, has suffered spills over the past half century that are 50 times the size that of the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. Yet, despite the enormity of the environmental destruction in the Niger Delta, the international community has paid scant attention to the growing devastation in the region in past years.

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), which carried out the study at the behest of the Nigerian government, concluded in a statement today that, “the oil industry has been a key sector of the Nigerian economy for over 50 years, but many Nigerians have paid a high price, as this assessment underlines.”

The U.N. report comes on the heels of Shell’s full acceptance of liability for two Niger Delta oil leaks earlier this week. The Anglo-Dutch oil company took full responsibility for these spills after a group of Nigerians initiated a class-action lawsuit in London’s High Court this past April. (A European Court of Justice ruling in 2005 eased the way for litigants to pursue legal action in European courts, and gives claimants an automatic right to sue in a defendant’s home country.) Shell now faces the possibility of having to pay as much as $410 million in compensatory damages to approximately 69,000 Nigerians, who have been adversely affected by the leaks.

Last fall, we brought you VII photographer Ed Kashi’s photo essay about his years covering the situation in the Niger Delta. In light of this week’s developments, we recommend that you revisit Kashi’s harrowing photos and audio commentary.

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