Monday, 23 August 2010

UN excuses corporate crime in the Niger Delta

The Guardian reports on the frankly stupefying findings of a UN investigation in the Niger Delta;
A three-year investigation by the United Nations will almost entirely exonerate Royal Dutch Shell for 40 years of oil pollution in the Niger delta, causing outrage among communities who have long campaigned to force the multinational to clean up its spills and pay compensation.

The $10m (£6.5m) investigation by the UN environment programme (UNEP), paid for by Shell, will say that only 10% of oil pollution in Ogoniland has been caused by equipment failures and company negligence, and concludes that the rest has come from local people illegally stealing oil and sabotaging company pipelines.
The reason for this outcome is that the investigation was "paid for by Shell." I very much doubt any multinational company would be so stupid as to pay for an investigation likely to find them at fault.

Further, as Mike Cowing, the head of a UN team studying environmental damage in the region, admits, UNEP "cannot say whether a particular spill is from one cause or another." In fact, because "our [anecdotal] observation is that there is a serious [bunkering ] problem," they pluck the figure of 90% out of the air.

This figure is in contrast to Environmental Rights Action, Nigeria's leading environment group, whose "observation is the direct opposite of what UNEP is planning to report."

Not that we should be surprised, since the official spill site list "is given by the oil companies themselves."It is "endorsed by the [government] agencies," who are of course also have oil interests in the region and are highly dependent on Shell. The idea that "no party will be able to influence the science" is laughable.

Nonetheless, this exposes the weakness of the UN and its various enforcement bodies in the face of corporate capitallism. Cowing claims to be "focusing on the science" because "UNEP is not responsible for allocating responsibility for the number of spills being found in Ogoniland." But if so, then what is the point?

Writing on this issue last November, I cited an Amnesty International report (PDF) which told how decades of pollution have seen "violations of the right to an adequate standard of living, including food and water, violations of the right to gain a living through work and violations of the right to health."

Worse, "the government of Nigeria has given the oil companies the authority to deal with matters that have a direct bearing on human rights." Which has "fundamentally undermined access to effective remedy, contributed to ongoing violations and led to deeper poverty and deprivation."

In April this year, a report on oil production in the region by the Independent noted that "medical studies have shown the gas burners contribute to an average life expectancy in the Delta region of 43 years." In addition, "12 per cent of newborns fail to see out their first year."

From which, I made the following point;
In the midst of such a scene, armed and militant resistance is inevitable. Though attacked as criminals, the armed rebels of the Delta are supported by indigenous people for one quite simple reason. They get results.

As Joseph Hurstcroft, executive director of Stakeholder Democracy Network, told the Independent, "there is an obvious correlation between militancy, reduced oil production and reduced flaring." When it is near-enough estalished fact that the oil companies "will never stop gas flaring until the oil wells run dry," what else can those affected do but take up arms?
My article, of course, wasn't just about the Niger Delta. For that is just one of many areas around the world where the oil companies'  profit is resulting in untold human misery.

But all the UNEP findings do is reinforce the propaganda of the state-corporate interests responsible for this. As Ben Amunwa of London-based oil watchdog group Platform told the Guardian, "many Ogoni suspect that the report's focus on sabotage and bunkering will be used to justify military repression notorious in the Niger delta, where non-violent activists, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, were executed."

There can be little doubt that Shell's "exoneration is a thinly-veiled propaganda exercise. It leaves the issue of environmental destruction largely unaddressed and the people of the Delta at further risk of state repression if they try to stand up for themselves.

Let us hope, at least, that UNEP can deliver the promised "massive clean-up" without interference from Shell or the government.