CAPPA – Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa

CAPPA Organizes CSOs, Communities, and Media Roundtable on Soot Pollution in Rivers State

Deeply concerned about the worrying menace of soot pollution in Port Harcourt, Rivers State and the Niger Delta region, and its toxic impacts on residents and the environment, the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa convened a one-day stakeholders roundtable meeting on June 17, 2022, in Port Harcourt. The meeting attracted thirty-five persons comprising media practitioners, representatives of civil society organizations, and members of frontline local communities who gathered to discuss factors influencing the persistent black soot in the state, and ways to engage state and regulatory authorities to resolve the problem.[spacer height=”25px”]

Since 2016, black soot has increasingly become an environmental and public health issue for residents of the supposed oil-rich Niger Delta region, including Port Harcourt. According to scientists, soot is an environmental contaminant and mass of impure carbon particles resulting from the incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons. Soot particles are extremely small, much smaller than a speck of dust, can sting the eyes, stay in the air for months and easily pass through the nose and throat to penetrate the human bloodstream and lungs to directly react with the DNA, cause premature deaths, asthma attacks and heart attacks. Doctors in the state say that the health effects of the soot pollution in the state are already evident with an increase in consultations for breathing difficulties and respiratory illnesses, including asthma.[spacer height=”25px”]

In his opening remarks, Phillip Jakpor, Director of Programmes, CAPPA, noted that the meeting was imperative to shed a spotlight on the issue, provoke deep national conversations, and collaboration among stakeholders to work with relevant authorities and frontline communities to find solutions to the problem.[spacer height=”25px”]

Whereas oil theft and illegal refinery are significant contributors to soot pollution in the region, energy poverty, and environmental neglect are two major factors that influence illegal oil refinery businesses. According to Ken Henshaw, a foremost environmentalist and Executive Director of ‘’We the People’’, who spoke after the welcome remarks, the reckless activities of big polluters such as oil multinationals in the region, from exploration to refining, greatly fuel the unabated generation of soot in the environment. Over the years, unchecked wastewater, gas emissions, and spillages produced during the drilling, production, and refining of crude oil, have degraded agricultural lands and air quality, upset the ecosystems of fishing waters, and essentially, turned hitherto productive areas into wastelands leaving communities and persons vulnerable. Deprived of their agrarian resources and livelihoods by corporate interests, many community members have been pushed to embrace illegal artisanal oil refining as a way of surviving and making ends meet despite the numerous health hazards associated with this crude process of oil refining. Oil criminals and artisanal refiners siphon crude oil from pipelines and redirect it into tanks, usually located in bushes and forests, where it is then boiled at very high temperatures to turn it into different petroleum products.[spacer height=”25px”]

Emem Okon, Executive Director, Kebetkache Women Development Centre, provided evidence of the socio-economic and gendered impacts of soot pollution. According to research studies, women exposed to air pollution are more susceptible to negative health risks than their male counterparts. In Rivers State, a lot of women are already suffering from infertility and early menopause which has been traced to the accumulation of soot in their systems. Buttressing, Okon’s submission, Chief Eric Doo of Ogoni Land revealed that residents of his community in Bayelsa State now rely on respiratory enhancing drugs such as Ventolin and Franol due to an unending soot pollution since 2014. According to him, the average Ogoni person living in the polluted community is weak and sickly with a reduced life expectancy.[spacer height=”25px”]

Prof. Peterside Sofiri of the University of Port Harcourt spoke on the complementary role of the media in bolstering the work of civil society organizations to stimulate public discourse and demand accountability from relevant state authorities including private actors to address environmental injustices such as soot pollution, gas flaring, illegal refining among others. To effectively harness the power of the media in exposing the ills of soot pollution, the organized civil society must constantly supply empirical data and well-analyzed information about environmental happenings to journalists whilst media practitioners must equally invest in field journalism to inspire balance and sincerity in news reportage.[spacer height=”25px”]

Aderonke Ige, Associate Director, CAPPA concluded the discussions for the day by informing participants of the opportunities presented in the liability roadmap for governments, communities, civil society, and environmental justice defenders to consider in the effort to hold Big Polluters liable and protect the integrity of the environment. She also spotlighted legislative options such as the proposed Bill for a Rivers State Environmental Protection Law currently in the process of enactment. The liability roadmap comprises of a menu of measures and variety of tools at the local, national and multinational levels that can be utilized for demanding accountability from decision-makers, and big oil corporations that pollute the environment whilst raking in huge profits. Some of its proposals include recommendations to stop fossil fuel expansion, initiate community-based climate damage funds, investigate and sue polluters and their enablers like financiers among others.[spacer height=”25px”]

The robust presentations at the meeting were punctuated with insightful reactions and contributions from participants, especially frontline community members, whose testimonials gave credence to the presentation and discussions. Olamide Martins, Programme Manager, CAPPA, stressed the need for organized resistance and community participation whilst utilizing a combination of resources and actions available. The meeting concluded with resolutions drawn by participants for state authorities to alleviate the suffering of peoples, end the energy poverty fueling artisanal refining, initiate a comprehensive health audit of residents of Rivers State, and demilitarize gas and refining projects.

 

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