Environmental restoration of Ogoniland could take 30 years

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*As UNEP team visits Nigeria to discuss implementation of Ogoni report

Representatives of the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, led by Special Envoy Erik Solheim met with top Nigerian government officials and other key partners last week in Abuja and Port Harcourt regarding the implementation of the environmental remediation proposed by UNEP in the Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland.

The August 2011 study – the most comprehensive assessment of its kind ever undertaken in the Niger Delta – found that oil contamination in Ogoniland, as a result of oil industry operations in the area since the late 1950s, is extensive and having a grave negative impact on the environment. The report called for the establishment of an “Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority” with initial funding of US$1 billion, in addition to implementing emergency measures to mitigate the ongoing harm to communities from the oil pollution. nigeriaoilspill

UNEP also highlighted that due to high rainfall in Ogoni land, any delay in cleaning up oil spills would worsen the current levels of contamination – rain would carry the oil across farmland and into creeks and the root zone, and subsequently kill crops and other plants.

In July 2012 ,Nigeria set up the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project, HYPREP,  to implement the environmental clean-up in Ogoniland and conduct environmental assessments in other parts of Nigeria impacted by oil contamination.

Erik Solheim, with a core technical UNEP team, is meeting with key government officials, non-governmental organisations, and civil society representatives, in order to establish the next steps in assisting with the environmental clean-up.

“With regard to Ogoniland, the UN system is committed to supporting the government throughout the entire process of implementing the recommendations of the report. On behalf of UNEP, I look forward to coordinated and collaborative action with our Nigerian and international partners in addressing pollution in Ogoniland,” said Solheim. “We can only ensure long-term environmental sustainability through dialogue, confidence and trust, and it is in this mindset that I lead the UNEP team here this week.”

The environmental restoration of Ogoniland is possible, according to UNEP, but could take 25 to 30 years. Due to the wide extent of contamination in Ogoniland and nearby areas, and the varying degrees of degradation, there will not be one single clean-up technique appropriate for the entire area. Therefore a combination of approaches will need to be considered.

Continued delay in the implementation of the recommendations will not only undermine the livelihoods of the Ogoni communities, but will also cause the pollution footprint to expand. In the long run, the findings of the study itself will become dated, and therefore further assessments will be needed, causing additional delays. UNEP hopes to convey this sense of urgency to the stakeholders during this mission

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