UN to launch oil contamination assessment in southern Nigeria

5 November 2007 – The United Nations environment and development agencies are joining forces to launch a comprehensive assessment of oil contamination in the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta as part of a broader Nigerian Government-led peace and reconciliation programme.

Exploration and production of oil in the area, which began in the 1950s, were suspended in the 1990s due to public unrest. Spills from this period are still problematic, and the lack of maintenance and damage to infrastructure has led to further contamination in the past 15 years.

UN officials are in Abuja today to finalize details of the project, expected to be completed at the end of next year, which seeks to ascertain the nature and extent of oil contamination in Ogoniland.

They are meeting with other UN agencies in the country as well as the Nigerian Minister of Environment, representatives from the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency and the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria.

“The assessment will seek to identify, evaluate and minimize the immediate and long-term human, social, health and economic impacts of oil contamination in Ogoniland, as well as those related to environmentally and economically important ecosystems,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

Teams of international and local experts will carry out assessments in more than 300 sites to determine oil’s impacts on land, water, agriculture, fisheries and in the air, as well as its effects on biodiversity and human health.

The project, based in Port Harcourt with smaller offices in Eleme, Tai, Khana and Gokana, seeks to benefit the community through employment and capacity-building activities.

After the teams report their findings, environmentally acceptable recommendations will be made to remedy the situation.

The new initiative comes following a request from the Nigerian Government, and will be conducted by the Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). It will operate within the Programme Framework for Improving Human Development in the Niger Delta, led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

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