Circling around a well that stinks of sulphur, Victoria Jiji cautions a visitor against drinking the water that has turned toxic.
“Don’t get any in your mouth or you’ll be sick,” warns the 55 year old villager in Ogoniland, a region in southeast Nigeria.
A year after a damning U.N. report that slammed multinational oil companies for devastating the area’s fragile wetlands, the area is frozen in time, abandoned with high levels of hydrocarbons in fishing and drinking waters.
In one community of nine villages, the U.N. found benzene – a known carcinogen - in the drinking water at levels over 900 times the World Health Organization's guidelines. The impact on vegetation was “disastrous,” the report said.
The area is said to need the world’s largest-ever clean-up, taking at least 25 years and costing more than $1 billion.
"Nothing whatsoever has been done ... towards the clean up," said Ben Naanen, chair of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), founded by the environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.
In nearby Bodo, villagers repeatedly asked Shell to clean up the oil that stagnated their lands and livelihoods. “I don’t think anything will grow there in the next 20 years. Nothing planted will grow,” said Emmanuel Kuru from Bodo. “The land is wasted. Oil kills everything.”
Last spring, some 11,000 members of the Bodo community filed suit in the London High Court seeking compensation of "many millions of dollars" for two major spills – the first one leaked 4,000 barrels of oil a day. A second spill in December is believed larger than the first. The case will be heard later this year. w/pix of Bodo fisherman