21 October 2017

Nigeria: Oil Spills Lead to Increased Newborn Mortality in the Niger Delta

Photo: Milieudefensie/Akintunde Akinleye
The Niger Delta (file photo).

Researchers from the University of Sankt Gallen have found that neonatal mortality rises if a child's mother lives close to an oil spill before conception.

Niger Delta resident Annkio Briggs still remembers the days when she could simply draw water from her family's well without having to worry about it being contaminated.

"I grew up drinking water from a well in my grandfather's house. We just used to take a clean bucket, lift water up and drink it", Briggs, now an environmental campaigner, told DW.

"Nowadays the water is polluted. I cannot drink it anymore, although it is a natural source meant for me and my people", the 65 year old said. He has since resorted to buying bottled water.

Persistent spills in Nigeria's oil producing region have not just contaminated water resources. Residents are also exposed to harmful chemicals found in crude oil through direct skin contact or the consumption of polluted vegetables. Many also inhale the smoke released by burning oil.

"Black spots recently covered the entire city and beyond", Delta resident Kie Oboe told DW. "This is a very serious issue, because it is affecting our health and the environment."

Newborn children not immune

Research has already shown how harmful the petroleum industry can be for residents. But a new study by the University of Sankt Gallen in Switzerland has revealed that the chemicals can also be dangerous for unborn children in the Delta region if their mothers live too close to an oil spill before the pregnancy begins.

"Oil spills that occur within 10 kilometers [of the mother] prior to child conception strongly increase the risk of mortality during the first months of life", the study's author Roland Hodler told DW.

According to the report, "The Effect of Oil Spills on Infant Mortality: Evidence from Nigeria", oil spills which occur within this 10 kilometer radius increase the neonatal mortality rate by 38 deaths per 100,000 live-births. That corresponds to an increase of 100 percent on the sample mean. In contrast, spills that occur during pregnancy do not have an impact on infant or neonatal mortality.

Holder and his colleague Anna Bruederle analyzed data from the Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor, which provides information on neonatal and infant mortality. He compared the data to the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey which provides the birth histories of more than 23,000 Nigerian mothers, as well as relevant health information about their children.

Surviving children also at risk

"Oil spills also increase infant mortality after the first months of life and continue to have negative effects on the health of surviving children", Hodler said. The study also claims that children who survive the neonatal period still have a high chance of suffering health problems during their first year of life, including a low weight-for-height ratio.

Hodler and his colleagues based these findings on 2,744 mothers living in oil spill-affected areas.

The Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor recorded some 5,296 oil spills between January 2005 and July 2014. It reports that up to 75 percent of the spills are caused by sabotage or theft. Militants and oil thieves have repeatedly attacked pipelines. Maintenance issues account for approximately 15 percent of all oil spills. Environmental campaigners have long accused companies in the area of neglecting to properly maintain pipes and other important installations. No causes have been listed for the remaining 10 percent of spills.

Nigeria is home to Africa's largest petroleum industry, with crude oil making up a sigification portion of the country's exports. But many residents in the Niger Delta region say that they have not benefitted from the oil industry. Instead, oil spills have become an alarmingly common event, devastating swathes of forest and waterways.

Should Nigeria's government do more to help?

In 2015, Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell agreed to pay 61 million euros in compensation to 15,600 fishermen and farmers after a Shell-owned pipeline burst twice in 2008 and destroyed thousands of hectares of mangroves, effectively bringing the region's once prosperous fishing industry to a halt.

The out-of court settlement was the culmination of a three year legal battle in Britain. The company also agreed to begin the clean-up of two major spills, however local civil society campaigners claim that progress so far has been too slow.

Hodler wants Nigeria's government to take on a more active role in preventing oil spills in the region.

"In my view, it would be the government's duty to regulate oil companies and control the maintenance of their pipelines", Hodler said. "It would also be the job of the government to prevent oil theft and sabotage."


Airlines That'll Succeed Are Those That Aren't Too Posh

Recent years have been brutal for African airlines but, in spite of that, there is a new rush to resurrect dead national… Read more »

See What Everyone is Watching

Copyright © 2017 Deutsche Welle. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 800 reports a day from more than 140 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.