For most Ogoni, the multinational oil giant, Shell is their number one enemy because of the strong impression they have that the operations of the oil giant in their area before it was halted only brought them misery, anguish and pain. The bitterness was evident as residents of Ogale community, Eleme spoke to the Vanguard Metro, VM, recently about the impact of benzene on their water.
They said at the moment water under the soil in the area was contaminated with BTEX(Benzene agent) which is a major cause of cancer in humans. And this has made the water unfit for consumption. They traced this sad situation to oil spill from the operations of the Anglo-Dutch oil giant.
"Our water has been polluted by benzene. When you fetch it you will see oil all over the water which makes it unfit for consumption. We can't even cook with it," one of them said.
United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, corroborated the above in its report on Ogoni after it conducted a three-year environment assessment of the area to determine the degree of pollution from oil spill. According to its report, the ground water is contaminated with BTEX, Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes and PAHS - polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons. It added that with prolonged consumption of the water, the benzene agent is known to cause cancer in humans.
The paramount ruler of Ogale community, Chief Bebe Okpabi regretted that several weeks after the UNEP report was released, Shell had not deemed it necessary to come to the aide of the community.
He said the area was the second largest oil bearing community in Eleme Local Government Area with nine oil wells. Adding, also that the area has the largest manifold in West Africa.
Meantime, the Rivers State government has swung into action to save residents of Ogale from further consumption of the cancerous water underneath its soil. In the last four weeks it had supplied over 2.6 million litres of potable water to the area.
This was confirmed by the paramount ruler, Chief Okpabi who was full of gratitude to the state government when the Commissioner for Water Resources, Patricia Simon Hart came on a visit to assess the success of the emergency water intervention project to the area. She said the state government truck about 100,000 litres of water to the area daily.
She explained that it was an interim measure put in place to immediately provide potable water to the area while effort was on to guarantee the people steady drinking water. The state government, according to the Commissioner, had concluded plans to rehabilitate an existing water station at Eleme, a nearby community to take care of the water needs of the community.
She assured that when work on the water station was completed the people would have steady access to safe drinking water. But in the interim, according to her, the government would continue to truck water to the people until the rehabilitation work was completed.
"GP tanks are positioned at strategic locations within the community to ensure easy access to the water by the community at the moment. The Rivers State Ministry of Water Resources has supplied over 2.6 million litres of potable water to the community with a minimum daily water supply of 100,000litres," she said
The paramount ruler, Chief Okpabe who received the Commissioner at his palace graciously thanked the Governor for his timely response. He, however, appealed that the number of points where they drop water for the community on a daily basis be raised to 18 because of the population of the area which he placed at about 75,000, noting also that the community is made up of nine villages. "I want to say on a very light note that the points are inadequate, government should make it a minimum of 18 points. We thank the Governor for what he is doing," he said.
He further enjoined the government to set up a water plant in the community. According to him, if the area relies on the water station from the neighbouring Eleme as being proposed by the government it would affect the psyche of residents of his community towards any gift of nature for human consumption in his community.
"If government goes ahead to feed us with water from Eleme, a neighbouring town, it would make residents of this community to conclude that anything found here is not safe for consumption . So I appeal to the government to consider setting up the water plant it proposed as a permanent solution here in Ogale," he pleaded.
Benzene is also found in water in Goi, Gokana Local Government Area. Residents of the community recently raised alarm on the issue, saying that several persons had been hospitalised of different ailments because they drank the water from underneath their land which has been contaminated by the dreaded benzene.
Fear of Benzene in water from the ground level has become the beginning of wisdom in most parts of Ogoni area of Rivers State. The collective appeal from the area is that Shell, NNPC and government should act quickly to save lives presently being endangered by this Benzene agent in water known to cause cancer in humans.