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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Curse of the Black Gold in the Niger Delta

Enough about ripping off Iraq by the multinational oil conglomerates. What about other members of the OPEC? One particularly interesting example is documented extensively on this issue of the National Geographic Magazine, Curse of the Black Gold: Hope and Betrayal in the Niger Delta. Here are the first few paragraphs from this article:
Oil fouls everything in southern Nigeria. It spills from the pipelines, poisoning soil and water. It stains the hands of politicians and generals, who siphon off its profits. It taints the ambitions of the young, who will try anything to scoop up a share of the liquid riches—fire a gun, sabotage a pipeline, kidnap a foreigner.

Nigeria had all the makings of an uplifting tale: poor African nation blessed with enormous sudden wealth. Visions of prosperity rose with the same force as the oil that first gushed from the Niger Delta's marshy ground in 1956. The world market craved delta crude, a "sweet," low-sulfur liquid called Bonny Light, easily refined into gasoline and diesel. By the mid-1970s, Nigeria had joined OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), and the government's budget bulged with petrodollars.

Everything looked possible—but everything went wrong.

Dense, garbage-heaped slums stretch for miles. Choking black smoke from an open-air slaughterhouse rolls over housetops. Streets are cratered with potholes and ruts. Vicious gangs roam school grounds. Peddlers and beggars rush up to vehicles stalled in gas lines. This is Port Harcourt, Nigeria's oil hub, capital of Rivers state, smack-dab in the middle of oil reserves bigger than the United States' and Mexico's combined. Port Harcourt should gleam; instead, it rots.

Beyond the city, within the labyrinth of creeks, rivers, and pipeline channels that vein the delta—one of the world's largest wetlands—exists a netherworld. Villages and towns cling to the banks, little more than heaps of mud-walled huts and rusty shacks. Groups of hungry, half-naked children and sullen, idle adults wander dirt paths. There is no electricity, no clean water, no medicine, no schools. Fishing nets hang dry; dugout canoes sit unused on muddy banks. Decades of oil spills, acid rain from gas flares, and the stripping away of mangroves for pipelines have killed off fish.

Nigeria has been subverted by the very thing that gave it promise—oil, which accounts for 95 percent of the country's export earnings and 80 percent of its revenue. In 1960, agricultural products such as palm oil and cacao beans made up nearly all Nigeria's exports; today, they barely register as trade items, and Africa's most populous country, with 130 million people, has gone from being self-sufficient in food to importing more than it produces. Because its refineries are constantly breaking down, oil-rich Nigeria must also import the bulk of its fuel. But even then, gas stations are often closed for want of supply. A recent United Nations report shows that in quality of life, Nigeria rates below all other major oil nations, from Libya to Indonesia. Its annual per capita income of $1,400 is less than that of Senegal, which exports mainly fish and nuts. The World Bank categorizes Nigeria as a "fragile state," beset by risk of armed conflict, epidemic disease, and failed governance.
This is clearly an extreme example of the oil mismanagement, and the exploitation by oil conglomerates, coupled together with the explosive worldwide demand of this vital resource, from China, India to the US, UK, and the EU. Come to think of it, this is actually quite similar to the illegal trade of another non-vital resource, the conflict diamonds, in which wars were also fought for in both Angola and Sierra Leone. The prolong, severe, and unrecoverable consequence of blood diamond will never be fully understood, and would for sure leave an everlasting legacy of death, suffering, and destruction amongst the inhabitants. Blood oil, on the other hand, is rarely reported on the mainstream media because it is the foundation of a successful and prosperous society, despite the fact that only 10% of the entire population would benefit. There are also very few mainstream films and documentaries on topics such as blood oil, and our dependence on oil.

It is always easy to blame someone or something else for our own insatiable needs, our own self-destruction, when it is in fact our own very deeds which caused all these. The future of mankind is in our grasp and control. How we want it to progress is entirely up to us. Ultimately, we will be the only victim of the mismanagement of the planetary resources!

Note: I enjoy the NGM, but the thing I really dislike is the overwhelming placement of ads. Furthermore, if you look at these ads closely, most of them are sponsored by the multinationals from automobile to the oil industries, such as BP, Ford, and Toyota. Obviously the agenda behind the magazine is to alter public's perception toward these environmentally-harmful industries. This really, really gives NGM a bad name. On one hand it's preserving the beauty of nature, on the other hand it's permitting these industries to prosper. This is not right!

1 comment:

ShastriX said...

Thanks for highlighting this, SpeedD. The movie, Blood Diamond, was quite gut-wrenching, to say the least.

As long as oil conglomerates follow a use-and-throw policy, one can't expect anything else.

TIA, remember?