Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Oil Curse in South Sudan

Environmental reports that suggested there may be a link between oil drilling in South Sudan and severe health problems for the local population were buried by the government, according to people with close knowledge of the oil industry in the nation.

Reports dating back to 2013 show that the government and oil companies have been aware for years that contamination from drilling could be damaging the health of local residents. But little has been done to clean up the mess, say locals. Promises by the government and the oil companies to tackle the pollution have repeatedly been broken, they say. The reports, obtained by the Associated Press from people with close knowledge of the oil operations, one of whom works in the industry, also contain accounts of “alarming” birth defects, miscarriages and other health problems among people living near oil fields and soldiers who have been stationed there. Residents also describe women being unable to get pregnant.
“South Sudan is running one of the dirtiest and poorest managed oil operations on the planet,” said Egbert Wesselink, the former head of a European coalition of more than 50 non-profit organisations focused on the impacts of the country's oil sector. He worked on the oil fields in South Sudan before the country gained independence in 2011, and now works with PAX, a Dutch-based human rights organisation.
Community leaders and politicians in the oil-rich areas in Upper Nile and Unity state accuse South Sudan's government and the two main oil consortiums, the Chinese-led Dar Petroleum Operating Co and the Greater Pioneer Operating Co, of neglecting the issue and trying to silence those who have tried to expose the problem.
Local residents have reported births of stillborn babies with severe deformities. One child had a "gaping hole" in its stomach, another was born without eyes or a nose.
“We're losing children,” said Nyaweir Ayik Monyuak, chair of the Women's Association in Melut, Upper Nile state, who lost two children of her own between 2008 and 2011. Many women can't even get pregnant, Ms Monyuak said.
Many of the residents said the health problems got worse after people started drinking water from white containers that had earlier been used by Dar Petroleum during drilling to separate crude oil from water.
The containers, which were also mentioned in the 2013 report, had hazardous substance warning labels. The chemicals are supposed to be “taken to a suitable and authorised waste disposal site”, according to a spokesperson for Clariant, one of the world's leading speciality chemical companies.
“Under no circumstances should these empty containers be used by people for any reason, in particular for holding drinking water,” said Rick Steiner, an oil pollution adviser in Alaska who consults for governments, aid groups and the United Nations on oil spills.
Soil and water samples from the area, and biological samples from soldiers who had been stationed there were analysed at the National Health Laboratory Service in South Africa. They found mercury levels in the water were seven times what is permissible under US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, and manganese concentrations were 10 times higher than the EPA allows, according to a summary of the study obtained by the Associated Press. The chemicals were also found in the soil and in urine samples from some of the soldiers.
“These results are clearly indicating that heavy metals and petrochemicals have contaminated the area,” the summary stated, and it recommended more studies to see if the pollution is connected with the health problems.
The most recent study, from November 2018, was commissioned by Dar Petroleum to assess the chemical contamination in its oil fields and the surrounding areas. Researchers documented hundreds of waste pits filled with water contaminated with arsenic and lead. They also found "extremely high" levels of hydrocarbons such as benzene in the soil.
The report recommended a five-year clean-up that would cost about $58m (£44m). South Sudan expects its oil industry to generate $99m (£76m) in revenue each month from July 2019 to June 2020, according to the national budget. No clean-up has yet been undertaken, residents say.​
South Sudan has the seventh highest rate of pollution-related deaths in the world, according to the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, an organisation of national environment ministries, international development organisations and NGOs. Oil accounts for almost all the country's exports and more than 40 per cent of its GDP, according to the World Bank.

The landscape of South Sudan has been scarred by oil drilling, which has left hundreds of open waste pits, and contaminated the water and soil with toxic chemicals and heavy metals including mercury, manganese, and arsenic.

Exposure to such substances can lead to a variety of health problems including cancer, respiratory problems, impotence and stillbirths, according to the World Health Organisation.
Phillips Anyang Ngong, a human rights lawyer, explained, “Companies are violating the law and the government is not intervening. It's a crisis that needs immediate attention now.”

Health experts with experience tackling oil pollution say companies often try to hide any connection between pollution and health problems. 

“Polluters try as much as possible not to let connections be drawn from pollution to health issues, they try to connect it to something else, like genetics. This is a known tactic,” said Nnimmo Bassey, executive director for health at the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, a not-for-profit environmental group based in Nigeria.

Environmental experts say there is little incentive for multinational companies to do anything because it is easy to get away with things in impoverished countries like South Sudan.
“No one's really watching. The government is neither willing nor able to monitor and enforce its own environmental laws,” said Luke Patey, senior researcher studying China's oil investments in Africa at the Danish Institute for International Studies. He said the result is “a vicious cycle of negligence”.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Cameroon Curse of Gold

Between 2017 and 2019, at least 115 children and adults drowned or were buried alive by landfalls in the mostly abandoned pits in the East and Adamawa regions of Cameroon, according to Forests and Rural Development (Foder), a local watchdog that is alone in tracking the accidents and deaths.

“The whole area was not at all secure,” says Sah, whose fury is clear as he describes how gold mining pits in the region – which locals call “tombs” – have been left open and abandoned by Chinese companies, among others.

Cameroon has one of the richest subsoils in Africa.

Since 2008, gold prices have risen and informal mining has spread widely across the continent. In recent years, more than 400 mining sites have been dug open by dozens of mining companies in Cameroon, predominantly from China, but also from South Korea, Greece, South Africa and elsewhere, according to Foder. Some British companies advertise online that they conduct gold exploration programmes in the country.
Cameroonian law obliges anyone exploiting a mining site to close and restore it before departing. In practice, however, once miners finish digging up gold from pits of up to 100 metres deep, they simply move on to the next project. Few – if any – mining holes are properly restored.

The scale of this is vast, says Eric Etoga, a Cameroonian activist who has been researching the extractive industries for years for Global Youth Dynamic, a local NGO. 

According to a study he produced in June 2019 for the Publish What You Pay campaign group, mining companies had left 248 open mining holes in in one area of east Cameroon alone.

 “We need sanctions – without them, people continue to do whatever they want,” said Etoga.

The Cameroonian branch of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a global body that promotes itself as setting the “global standard to promote the open and accountable management of oil, gas and mineral resources”, also failed to address the deaths in the mines, simply forwarding government reassurances that the numbers of mortalities in abandoned pits have significantly decreased over the past two years.

Not a single signpost or diagram was seen in the seven sites visited by the Guardian, as unaccompanied young children walked barefoot or wearing flip-flops in the dangerous areas. Women with babies tied on their backs were seen descending into the mines with no protection or safety precautions.

On paper, some British companies extracting gold in Cameroon praise the benefits of the business for local populations, claiming that it helps villagers to survive financially. On the ground, some of the youths working in gold mines confirm that the industry enables them to earn money, which they would otherwise have been unable to do in an underdeveloped region that lacks basic services, including a steady electricity supply.

Yet, when it comes to the open mining pits, corporate reassurances that the holes will be filled up and restored ring hollow. The landscape of eastern Cameroon, which in the past used to provide fertile farming ground for the local population, nowadays resembles the surface of the moon, with giant holes puncturing the once green landscape. As the midday sun heated the pits, the brown, polluted waters inside reek of chemical waste, attracting clouds of buzzing mosquitoes that spread malaria, dengue fever and other killer diseases.

China is Cameroon’s biggest foreign investor and trading partner, operating a wide range of infrastructure projects, from constructing roads to building football stadiums. In January 2019, one of China’s top diplomats, Yang Jiechi, visited the Central African nation.

Yet, in eastern Cameroon, the visit prompted protests, as miners picketed outside a Chinese-run gold mining project in the village of Ngoura, blocking access.
In December 2017, in the nearby village of Ngoe Ngoe, nine people were killed during a land fall in a deep mine left open by the Chinese company Lu and Lang. The pit had been abandoned by workers less than a month earlier.

Chinese and other foreign companies are not the only ones responsible. In 2017, Narma Ndoyama, a farmer, lost his 28-year-old son after he was buried alive in a mine landslide in the Longa Mali village, eastern Cameroon.

“Now his wife is alone trying to provide for five children,” says Ndoyama, adding that the average of 1,500 west African CFA francs (£1.91) he makes each day from farming leaves him unable to help much. Ndoyama alleges that the mine in which his son died belonged to Société Camerounaise d’Exploitation Minière (SCEM), a company owned by Ali Bachir, a prominent member of Cameroon’s national assembly from the ruling party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement.

The party is led by Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, who, aged 87, is currently Africa’s second longest-ruling autocrat (after Equatorial Guinea’s president Teodoro Obiang).

Ndoyama said that he had tried to press SCEM officials to launch an inquiry into his son’s death in the hope of getting some desperately needed compensation for the family, but received no response. “The gendarmerie came to do an investigation, but there was no follow up,” he says. “The state lets people just die in the holes.”
Cameroonians signed a petition, initiated by Foder, that called on the government to force mining companies to abide by the law and close the open pits.

“Honourable ministers, how many more deaths do you want in order to put an end to this?,” the petitioners asked. “These irresponsible mining companies… are pillaging us and they are killing us. These poisonous lakes, these gold pits have become tombs.”
As the presence of mining companies destroys farm land, pollutes water sources and poisons the local fish, instead of digging the ground for crops the locals are now digging for gold in order to survive. Processing such gold poses serious health hazards.

Mercury is an essential tool in some types of gold extraction because of its ability to bind gold particles together. Yet it is also a poison – whether its fumes are inhaled, its particles are eaten through contaminated fish or water, or simply if someone touches it with their bare hands.

Besides lung damage it can lead to memory loss, irritability, depression, kidney failure, tremors, numbness and discoloured, peeling or scaly skin. Extreme mercury poisoning can cause paralysis, coma, or insanity. In a 2018 study measuring blood mercury levels in miners in eastern Cameroon, almost one in 10 (9.1%) of the miners had blood that was chronically intoxicated with mercury.

Marie Louise, a mother of five in her 40s living in Longa Mali, is handling mercury freely as she stands ankle-deep in a pool of opaque mustard coloured water just metres from her front door. Her children stand in the water with her, watching her form a tiny, ladybird-sized blob to sell for $2 (£1.53) for a local dealer. Silvery globules spread into the water as the children splash and rub their eyes, while Marie Louise massages the remaining mercury with her hands.

The Cameroonian mining code forbids the use of mercury for this purpose due to its toxic health effects. Gold mining companies operating here are quick to cite this. Yet, on the ground, the use of mercury is freely observed at many gold mining sites, often just a few hundred metres away from local policemen who are seen slumbering in the shade of mango trees.

“I know the dangers,” Marie Louise admitted. ”But it’s money. Without this, how will we live?,” she says, adding that the children also sometimes use mercury to help with gold processing.

“When we see that the belly is empty, we have to do it in order to eat,” she adds, gesturing to her children.

“The more I research it, the more I realise that people are taking advantage from people’s ignorance,” says Etoga. “If it had been a population that had been sufficiently educated, who had a good level of knowledge, it wouldn’t be happening. But there, many people don’t know anything – especially if they spend their time in the mines instead of going to school.

“Some say that gold has brought us so much money, so many millions. But if you weigh it against all that we have lost, you will see that we’ve gained nothing. Nothing at all.”

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

We are all Africans

Since some Homo Sapiens 125,000 years ago began to move from the African continent, humans can be found all over the world. By moving, humans have tried to escape inadequate food-supply or otherwise unacceptable living conditions. Natural forces have forced them to leave, or even more commonly – violent actions by other humans. Humans are naturally social beings. We live in communities, both within our family and a larger society, and such a life is certainly more pleasant, more stimulating and safer if we are caring and friendly, rather than greedy, easily irritated and hostile.

Africa has a population problem. Africa retains fertility rates far above replacement. The future of Africa looks grim; the continent will remain largely poor and rural. Women will be forced to have child after child, swelling the numbers of humanity in the one place on Earth that can least easily support them. But this is also a too pessimistic a prognosis.

In Nigeria a typical apartment block is known as a Face Me, Face You because whole families squeeze into 7-by-11-foot rooms along a narrow corridor. Up to 50 people share a kitchen, toilet and sink —although many of  the pipes no longer carry water. Slum-dwelling in Africa has become the normal trend with millions of people living in settlements characterised by some combination of overcrowding, ramshackled unsafe dwellings, and limited or no access to water and sanitation. Urbanisation without industrialisation means that jobs and livelihoods too often remain low-skilled and poorly paid. Without the opportunity to develop skills and organise collectively, workers exert little influence over working conditions. When formal jobs in industry or services are scarce, the informal economy absorbs much of the labour force. Africa is the embodiment of capitalist exploitation. For almost four centuries it has been systematically plundered for its raw materials and human labour. Africa is rich beyond the dreams of avarice but its people have never enjoyed its riches. Both foreign and native exploiters have relegated its people to abject poverty and endemic misery for generation upon generation.

But a problem it needn’t be. Over the next 30 years, the number of people on the continent is expected to double from 1.2 billion to 2.5 billion.The working-age population of Africa expected to double to 1.3 billion by 2050.

 Approximately three-dozen countries, largely in sub-Saharan Africa, are projected to more than quadruple during this century according to the United Nations. Paradoxically in many African regions, the problem is underpopulation: The people are so thinly spread over large areas that it is often difficult to create a meaningful infrastructure to promote the interaction crucial to development. Africa's average population density is only 16 per square kilometer, against China's 100 per square kilometer and India's 225. In fact, Africa has only one-fifth the population density of Europe. Furthermore, Africa has more arable land per capita than any other developing region.

Migration by humans has been a fact of life throughout their evolution. Homo sapiens emerged from Africa. Migration has been an essential mechanism for survival in the harsh climate and erratic agricultural conditions of the Sahara and Sahel regions for as long as people have lived there. To feed oneself, to provide for ones family , men and women will always seek other lands, and while the grass is still literally greener on the other side then men and women will endeavour to reach it. Only when it is possible to maintain an adequate living standard at home, will men and women stay at home. That is something Capitalism will never be able to offer many people throughout Africa.

Now a series of climate crises is forcing people to migrate, leave their homes and occupation. Climate change threatens to cause one of the biggest refugee crises of all time

Poverty, failing ecosystems, vulnerability to natural hazards and gradual environmental changes have always been linked to migration. The effects of warming and drying in some regions will reduce agricultural potential and undermine the provision of clean water and availability of fertile soil. The increase in extreme weather events such as heavy rains and resulting flash or river floods in tropical regions will affect even more people and generate mass displacement. A sea-level rise will permanently destroy extensive and highly productive low-lying coastal areas that are home to millions of people who will have to relocate permanently. Its main impacts are escalating humanitarian crises, rapid urbanisation and associated slum growth, and stalled development.

African migration is predominately within the continent, particularly between neighbouring countries. In 2013, 65 percent of the 20 million sub-Saharan African migrants, who had left their countries, were still living in the region. 

The driver of African migration include the desire for a better and safer life, and the search for work. People are also forced to move by war, harsh economic climates, bad governance and environmental degradation. Remittances – money sent by migrants to their home countries – are one of the biggest benefits of migration for African countries. However, Africa’s loss of skilled and educated people remains a major negative consequence of migration.

Africa's population boom can be an asset if it is managed carefully planned.

World socialism is a vision of the 'one world' principle - we have one world and that is to be shared between us all. A world of common ownership with free movement for all. The underlying problem to be eliminated is not migration but capitalism. In a socialist society humanity will for the first time be truly free and living according to natural principles, it will consciously direct its own development. Mankind will act consciously and according to a plan and to the whims of the market economy. With socialism overpopulation will not be an issue. The solution to the population problem” is to overthrow capitalism for if production is geared to the needs of the people and not to filling the coffers of a few capitalists and their corporations there will be no population problem. It is not people who are “polluting” the world with their numbers but Big Business in search for profits

Since Mandela

South Africa is the continent's most industrialised country, with its gross domestic product (GDP) rising from $139.8bn in 1994 to $368.9bn in 2018, according to the World Bank.
"The record growth the country witnessed after apartheid was partly due to the boom in the global commodity prices. On average, the economy grew about 3 percent every year," economist Azar Jamine told Al Jazeera.
But in recent years, the economy has been hit by a slump amid high unemployment and dips in key sectors. Moody's is the last of three main global rating firms to rate South Africa's debt at investment level, and it is due to review the rating next month after downgrading the outlook to negative last year.
In January, the International Monetary Fund said it expected Africa's second-biggest economy to grow at 0.8 percent this year, down from a previous forecast for 1.1 percent growth. For 2021, it forecast growth of 1.0 percent, down from an earlier prediction for 1.4 percent growth.
"Inequality is high, persistent, and has increased since 1994," the World Bank said in a 2018 reportThe top 1 percent of South Africans own 70.9 percent of the country's wealth, it added, while the bottom 60 percent hold just the 7 percent.
The body also said South Africa has the highest Gini index in the world: 63 percent. The index measures a country's wealth distribution - the closer a value is to zero the more equal the residents of that country are. 
The $1.90 a day poverty rate increased from 16.8 percent to 18.8 percent between 2011 and 2015.

 Dale McKinley, a political analyst, explained, "On the socioeconomic front, little has changed. In fact, things have gotten worse when it comes to basic services like healthcare, housing and education." 

Healthcare remains out of reach for many South Africans.
"Healthcare is the third-largest item of government expenditure, and yet there is a fundamental disjoint between what we are spending on healthcare and the health outcomes of our citizens," President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged in 2018. "It pained me, as it should every citizen of this country, to hear how this most fundamental of rights, of access to healthcare services, has been impacted by the stench of corruption. Corruption in the health system is not a victimless crime. It targets the poorest and most vulnerable in our society."
In its 2019 corruption perception index, Transparency International ranked South Africa 70 out of 180 countries. 
Speaking at the FT Africa Summit in London last year, Ramaphosa said South Africa lost $34bn, about a 10th of the country's GDP, to corruption during the decade that his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, was in power. Ramaphosa, who took office as president in 2018, was Zuma's deputy for four years.
"Corruption is a huge problem in South Africa," McKinley said. "It is deep and runs all the way from the top down to district level..." 
Analysts say the country's education system does not prepare graduates for the job market.
"Only about 15 percent of the schools in South Africa are outstanding. Eighty-five percent are weak at best. This has huge impact on our workforce and the quality of our output as a country," Jamine said.
One of the key promises of the ANC after coming to power was to redistribute land - the country's black majority were denied ownership rights under apartheid's segregation laws.
The ANC followed a "willing seller, willing buyer" model through which the government bought white-owned farms for redistribution. However, progress has been slow and most of the farmland is still owned by white farmers.
At least 72 percent of the country's arable land remains in the hands of whites, who make up less than 10 percent of the 58-million population, according to a 2017 land audit.