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Vulnerability, in sustainability context can be said to be the reduced capacity of an individual or groups, to effectively manage, resist or cope with hazards and disasters. Its framework as a concept to determine the strengths or weaknesses of global societies is increasingly becoming a crucial part of sustainable development strategy. It focuses on the present and the foreseeable future conditions of a society. It examines types, risks/hazards levels, and the people's abilities to control or impede colossal damages. However, "to determine people's vulnerability, two questions need to be asked: To what threat or hazard are they vulnerable? and what makes them vulnerable to that threat or hazard?" [IFRC.2009]. In a statement by International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC); "physical, economic, social and political factors determine people's level of vulnerability and the extent of their capacity to resist, cope with and recover from hazards. Poverty is also a major contributor to vulnerability. Poor people are more likely to live and work in areas exposed to potential hazards, while they are less likely to have the resources to cope when a disaster strikes" [IFRC. 2009]. The above insight from IFRC is a perfect illustration of the current predicaments of the Niger-Delta people of Nigeria; as I witnessed while executing a project in the region. The oil-rich region is highly vulnerable to a number of hazards and disasters, both natural and manmade. Jared Diamond in his book Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed sets out a framework by which vulnerability can be investigated. This case study is a holistic assessment of Nigeria's Niger-Delta region, using Diamond's Vulnerability factors such as: environmental damage, climate change, hostile neighbors, friendly trade partners and society's response to its problems; as the yardstick to determine the types and extent of their vulnerability; their capacity to cope/handle risks, and the effects of these vulnerability factors on the engineering project I executed in the Niger-Delta region.
The Niger-Delta region of Nigeria is presumed to be the largest low-land forest and marine ecosystem in West African sub-region. Politically, there are nine states that constitute the Niger Delta region. These include: Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross-River, Delta, Edo, Rivers and part of Ondo (south-west); as well as part of Abia and Imo (south-east). The major ethnic groups in the region are the Ijaws, Urhobos, Itsekiris, Ogonis, Ibibios, Edos, Ibos and the Yorubas. However, the people from the core south-south states (i.e. Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross-River, Edo, and Delta), are minorities within the Nigerian Federation, and they are the most vulnerable group under scrutiny in this vulnerability assessment. Vulnerability of the region to risks and hazards is very high, but their resilience capacity is extremely low. The hazards and risks associated with the Niger-Delta region typically are manmade-emanating from oil & gas explorations and production activities.
Oil exploration in Nigeria started in 1908 by a German multi-national company called-Nigerian Bitumen Company. However, exploration was stopped by the outbreak of the First World War, "between" (1914-1918). Exploration resumed again in 1937 by Shell D' Arcy; present (Shell Petroleum Development Company-SPDC). Oil was struck in commercial quantity by Shell in 1956 at Oloibiri; present (Bayelsa State), and first cargo was exported to international market on February 17, 1958. Revenue derived from oil now accounts for about 60% of Nigeria's GDP and over 90% of foreign exchange earnings [source: Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation-NNPC. 2008]. With all these economic benefits however, oil and gas activities in the Niger-Delta, has brought untold hardship to the people; from air pollution and environmental degradation to carcinogenic diseases, and a near extinction of aquatic/wild life.
As at today, over seven multi-national oil corporations (including our indigenous Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation) operate in the Niger-Delta; releasing uncontrollably all manner of hazardous waste into the environment. It is on record that, Nigeria flares about 1.2 trillion cubic feet of gas annually; making Nigeria the second highest gas flaring country in the world, after Russia. It is estimated that this amount of gas that is wasted through flaring in Nigeria could generate over 12,000 Megawatts of electricity. About 50% of gas associated with crude oil is flared, and over 2.5 billion US dollars is lost annually to gas flaring in Nigeria. (Source of data: NNPC/NGA in Vanguarged of July14, 2008).
Background/Reason for the Vulnerability Assessment:
The vulnerability assessment of the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria as documented in this report follows from personal experience of a number of issues I witnessed while executing an engineering project in the region "between" 2007-2008; which perfectly fit into all of Diamond's vulnerability factors under scrutiny. As a Mechanical Engineer and an employee of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), with over eight years of practical experience in the oil & gas industry; I have participated in a number of projects; varying from turn-key engineering projects to community development projects. One of such experiences was on a project where I led a team of seven-members constituted by NNPC management, to investigate the immediate causes of fire that gutted the corporation's pollution control center in Port Harcourt, Nigeria (a Niger-Delta region); develop a working plan for its rehabilitation, and supervise the project to completion. The pollution control center was designed to monitor air pollution sources and mitigate the effects of stationary and mobile air pollutants. It was also used for safe keeping of protective devices/safety equipment; until it was bombed down by the warring militants. This assignment was very challenging in that, the security concerns in the Niger-Delta was not permitting the team and contractors easy access to the installations. The alienated militants, who usually were engaged in heinous activities, of kidnapping expatriates of the multinational oil companies for a ransom; decided to escalate their evil duel to include the local companies and contractors. They took-up arms against our team, in protest of their perceived inhumane treatment and marginalization. Thus, forcing NNPC management to declare their intention to discontinue the project; (having spent over 60% of the contract sum). But, as a team lead determined to succeed, I wrote proposals to management stressing the need to dialogue with the host communities, so as to win their peace & cooperation. The situation became more challenging as management were not readily buying into the idea, in the belief that community involvement might cause them to lose more resources in addition to what was already going down the drain. On the other hand, the hostile communities were not even willing to grant us attention to strike any deal. Convincing all the parties to accept a common objective was indeed a challenging task. However, a peace accord was finally reached with the immediate communities after so many months of horse-trading, and the project continued.
Vulnerability of this region to factors such as inaccessible water ways due to oil spills, gully erosions caused by over-flow of river banks, acid rain from industrial emissions, gas flaring from oil production and hostility from the communities; impacted negatively on the team's investigations and performance of the contractors that were handling the project. Our investigation into the cause of the fire revealed that, the opposing youths of the area used dynamites to blow-up the only dedicated gas line linking the pollution control center and the gas flow station. The inferno razed the entire center to ashes, and it cost the corporation the sum of 2.5M USD to reconstruct it. However, the point of interest here is the vulnerability status of the region and how it affected our project. During the cause of our investigation, the other side of the region which forms the basis for this report was revealed. The team was shocked to discover the extent of environmental damage to the communities by the oil companies. There was no clean water supply, as the ponds/rivers which usually are sources of fresh water for the locals became highly alkaline due to discharge of oil wastes into the waters. Continuous accumulation of industrial acids on marine life and green vegetation has caused fishes to die, while the crops became stunted. Thatched buildings have become corroded within a short time, while the locals themselves suffer from major illnesses to terminal cases like cancer. Environmental damage in the Niger-Delta region is enormous. Farm lands are no longer sustainable. Climate change has taken its toll in the region as sea levels are raising. The hostilities from communities of the region, as a response to perceived marginalization and neglect by Government is crumbling both social and economic activities. Bilateral ties and friendly trade partnership is lost; as organizations and multinational companies could no longer cope with incessant attacks on facilities and hostage taking of their personnel. All these factors affecting the region fit perfectly into Diamond's vulnerability framework.
Effects of Vulnerability Factors on the Rehabilitation Project:
Environmental Damage: - The impact of oil exploitation on the environment in the Niger-Delta is so severe that accessing specific locations in the region to embark on new projects, or carry out rehabilitation works has become one of the greatest challenges faced; which is also the case for the rehabilitation work on the pollution control center. Even though, the effect of environmental damage in the Niger-Delta is neither uniform nor spontaneous, it cut across the entire landscape. Since our project site was located in a coastal settlement that is already under severe demographic pressure and unsustainable oil exploration activities, it was almost impossible for my team and contractors to gain access to the site location. Access roads were completely nonexistent, while the only available route for transportation of goods and services to the area-i.e. the waterways were also inaccessible due to heavy oil spills into the waters, [see attached oil spills pictures]. Having managed to investigate and establish the causes of fire that consumed the edifice, the project team suffered a more serious setback in executing the project. Supply and delivery of heavy equipment/machinery, goods/services to the site, was hampered by these adverse environmental conditions.
Climate Change: - Climate change is taking its toll on the Niger-Delta region. Located in the Atlantic coast where river Niger divides into many tributaries, the region has in recent years experienced tremendous sea level rise and flood. Coastal erosion has become a common phenomenon in the delta. It destroys arable soil, destroys access roads and fresh water sources. It also threatens the lives and property of the local communities. Many have been rendered homeless by floods disasters and almost all access roads have become impassable in recent times. It is pertinent to point here that one of the areas in the region worst hit by climate change is the community where the pollution control center is located. For example, two speed boats used to convey cement and other equipment to our site were capsized by huge tidal turbulence resulting from heavy sea level rise. Air pollution due to gas flaring is another critical issue that affected our operations [see attached gas flaring pictures]. All these factors had telling effects on the overall performance of our project.
Hostile Neighbors: - Hostilities and conflict of interest in the Niger-Delta were the greatest challenges the project team encountered. There was continued resistance and hindered access to work locations by angry youths. One interesting paradox about the Niger-Delta people is that, the local communities though perpetually in arms twist against one another over resource/territorial control and supremacy, are quick to rally together against a "so called" intruder. Inter-and intra conflicts between the major ethnic groups in the region over resources and territory; tribal clashes and tensions among neighboring communities over supremacy; and militants' coalition against the federal Government and multinational oil companies has heightened insecurity in the region. As already highlighted in my introduction, this factor alone compelled NNPC management to declare their intention to suspend the project; having spent over 60% of the funds voted for the reconstruction work. It took the vigorous efforts of the team lead and the members, to persuade the warring communities and NNPC management to reach an agreement before significant progress was made on the project. In addition, outrageous community development levies were paid, with ad hoc employment opportunities created for the local youths. Other basic amenities requested by the communities were also provided.
Friendly Trade Partners: - In global and local business arena, friendly trade partners' foster co-operative agreements that promote social and economic development. Bilateral and multilateral ties exist between individuals, governments and nations; with complementary efforts to boost commerce and trade, as well as promote social security among partners. For Nigeria, the reverse of this concept is the case in Niger-Delta. Bilateral agreements are broken, while trade partners are summarily dismissed. Employees of partner organizations and family members are taken hostage for ransom; while their personal effects are confiscated or vandalized. The target partners are no longer the multinationals alone, but, the local companies also. For instance, it was a result of such breach of trust in business, and breach of security agreements that compelled Schlumberger to decline our request to supply equipment for the reconstruction of the pollution control center. This and many other traumatic experiences in the region affected our performance as a team and influenced negatively on the duration and overall cost of the project.
Society's Response to Problems: - The response of the Niger-Delta people to their current predicaments cannot be overemphasized. It is indeed true that the people have suffered untold economic hardship and political neglect. From my personal experiences and evaluation of the region, I can confirm with profound sadness that the situation is true. However, the center of attraction now is their response to this plight; which I can also confirm from experience as being that of violence and brutal attacks on facilities/individuals. For example, a typical Ijaw youth in the Niger-Delta no longer understands the language of peace and harmony. He believes that lifting up AK-47 is the solution to his problems [see attached unidentified Niger-Delta Militants]. Ironically, as more firearms are being procured and more youths are recruited into their volunteer forces; with the under-age carrying at least a Dane gun, and women carrying pestles; the plights of the people have never improved. The solutions which revolve around negotiations are rather far-fetched. Now, taking a professional look at the Niger-Delta agenda in the context of sustainability, one is left to wonder and question: are these people fighting the cause for environmental sustainability or are they after personal survival? Whichever is the answer, one is tempted to ask again: do they really understand what might become the future of their environment? Or they are just concerned about fighting the oil majors for heavy compensations and the federal Government for fat revenue allocations.
Societal Poverty: - Another critical vulnerability factor Diamond failed to expressly mention in his framework; which is one of the major factors, affecting the Niger-Delta region is poverty. Though, he acknowledges that different elements take priority in different circumstances, of which that idea holds true here. To the best of my knowledge and understanding of the region, poverty as a form of vulnerability takes precedence over friendly trade partners and climate change in the region. Another paradox here is that, one would reasonably expect the advent of oil and gas in the region to promote economic prosperity and enhance the social well being of the people. But, the current situation shows that the presence of oil and gas in the region has increased the poverty level of the people. Unemployed youths in the region engage in all manner of nefarious activities that crumbles further the erring economy. Another dimension is that the presence of multinational oil & gas companies in the region attracts job-seeking youths from other parts of the country to the region in search of non-existent jobs; leading to population explode in that small area. The implication is that as the number of jobless youths increase without fully engaged in productive adventures, they turn to immorality as a side attraction and leisure; thereby spreading all kinds of diseases among the communities. Our project was adversely affected by these factors, as we incurred project overrun, with significant delay in commissioning of the center.
The most important lesson learnt here, which is in total agreement with Diamond's perspective is that, breakdown of economic, cultural and social institutions; with ecological relationships is the most common feature of collapse. It can also, be inferred from the above analysis that vulnerability as a concept is relative and very dynamic. Individuals, groups or nations differ in the type and extent of vulnerability, as well as their resilience to risks/disasters. In advanced countries for example, people usually have higher level of resilience to resist the impact of a hazard. They are also, better protected from hazards and have a better awareness and preparedness systems in place to combat disasters. Where as in poorer countries, the level of exposure is higher, and the resilience is extremely low. Peoples' awareness to disaster management is low, while income level and preparedness to combat disasters is negligible in most cases. On the lingering crisis in the Niger-Delta, the people of the region remain vulnerable to the same environment that generates wealth for the nation because of neglect. Their major demand however, is that of a greater share of the revenues derivation from the oil and gas proceeds. The group is primarily concerned with receiving more economic opportunities and resources. They are also pressing for greater compensation from oil & gas companies and protection from polluting activities in the region. Only the most extremist groups are demanding complete political independence for the Niger Delta region. [UNHCR. 2003].