''WE have rarely been so touched or felt so loved by a group of people we only just met. It has been an amazing experience that has changed all of us forever and we promise you, we will not give up this fight'', these are the words of some Dutch citizens who visited the environmentally ravaged Niger Delta of Nigeria.
The Dutch citizens were from Milieudefensie / Friends of the Earth Netherlands, Dutch public broadcasting company, VARA. They visited the oil and gas region from August 20 – 29, with Environmental Rights Action / Friends of the Earth Nigeria.
Already, they have produced a 45-minute documentary, to be broadcasted prime time on October 5, in the Netherlands, and a live blog on www.worsethanbad.org/blog.
For over 50 years, the Niger Delta has been home to the world’s biggest oil spill, with devastating effects for the local communities. But outside of Nigeria, especially in the Netherlands, little is known about this disaster.
The Dutch citizens did not only look at the effects of the oil pollution, they also looked into the role of Dutch-based company, Shell. Shell is one of the oldest and most important oil producers of Nigeria. Why is it that the biggest company in the world still hasn’t resolved this disaster? And what are the steps that should be taken in order to resolve it?
Together with their Nigerian “buddies” from Ogoniland, the Dutch citizens visited affected communities. What they saw affected them deeply.
Herman Sier (Dutch), buddy to Veronica Kobani from Goi: ''Goi to me is “paradise lost”: I can still see how beautiful it once must have been. But the terrible oil stench is everywhere. And the wonderful mirror like reflection of the calm water turns out to be caused by the layer of oil floating on it. I have been told the people left years ago, and I can see and smell why: it is impossible to live here. There is no more fish, and growing vegetables is no longer possible. I cannot imagine that my own family and all the other inhabitants of my hometown would be forced to leave. Horror….''
Jet Baan (Dutch), buddy to Chief Saint Emmah Pii from Bodo: ''Going by boat through the Bodo creeks was both horrifying and terribly saddening. The destruction caused by oil is clearly visible by the layer of oil on the water, the dead mangroves and the blackness of the banks. But seeing the people of the community, still trying to fish, was absolutely heart breaking. Especially when they end their very long fishing days with absolutely nothing. Instead they leave with a boat full of fire wood which they hope to sell for the measly price of 10 Naira''.
Natasja de Vries (Dutch), buddy to Chief Bari-ara K’palap says: ''Everyone I spoke to in K-Dere feels robbed from their dignity. People are suffering and no one in the world seems to know or care about it. As Shell is a Dutch company, I feel partly responsible for this major disaster. We owe it to the victims of our biggest misstep to make it right''.
Herman, Jet and Natasja: ''We, as Dutch citizens, feel partly responsible for the suffering that has been caused here. And even though we did not directly earn money through Shell, we do live a better, richer life because of them. You suffer and we prosper. Knowing this, knowing what we know now and having been touched so deeply by all the people we met here, it is hard for us to accept this.
''Awareness is a very important part of the process. The people of the Niger Delta need our support in their fight for justice, they cannot do it alone! The more people that know about this disaster, the more support we can get for the Niger Delta. So by contacting press, airing the documentary, following the court cases and telling the story of us and our buddies, we hope to make the Netherlands aware and caring. And after the Netherlands, we will of course try to bring awareness to the rest of the world. Together we can unite and stand strong, and force Shell and the Nigerian government to take responsibility and make a change''.
The next steps according to the Dutch citizens:
• Shell needs to stop the spills and replace or reinforce old pipelines
and manifolds. By doing this, they can protect the Niger Delta from new spills.
• After this is done, the clean-up can be started. This will be a long and
complicated process, so it is important to invest in experts in sanitation who know how to do a proper job. Next to that it would be a good idea to employ the local youths. By giving them a training or working education, they can learn a profession, help with the clean-up, pass their knowledge on others and earn their own money to support themselves and their future families. Furthermore it will give them confidence they need in themselves and in their own abilities. This is very important for the community spirit and hope.
• As the clean up can take up to 30 years according to the UNEP report,
money has to be set aside for the local communities to survive as they still won’t be able to use the land or creeks to earn a living. It is important that an independent organization handles this part of the process.
• Next comes education and healthcare, for they are equally important. A
good hospital needs to be put in the area and a financial system needs to be worked out so that people can always see a doctor. As for education, it is the basis for a positive and growing future. Free education should be made available for every child in the Niger Delta, or at least until the community gets back on its feet and is able to earn a living again. ENDS