The equivalent of two BP Deepwater Horizon oil spills.

That’s how much oil Shell has spilled in the Niger Delta over the past 50 years, according to some estimates. Shell has never seriously attempted to clean up the mess, leaving local people and wildlife to deal with the catastrophic consequences while it pockets the massive profits.

But right now the people of the Niger Delta have an unprecedented opportunity: Shell has started to admit that it has responsibility for some of the environmental damage caused — and the United Nations is pushing for a $1 billion clean-up fund for the Delta’s Ogoniland region.

The environmental and human rights catastrophe in the Niger Delta is getting worse. No longer able to scoop water from oil-covered streams, villagers now have to walk several hours to get water. Fishing, which plays an essential part of the local economy, has also been devastated — no fish have been seen in the streams in the past five years.

A landmark report last year from UNEP (the United Nations Environmental Program) concluded that the maintenance of the Shell infrastructure “has been and remains inadequate” and calls for a $1 billion starter fund for clean-up in the Ogoniland region to be contributed.

UNEP’s report was harsh on Shell — for instance, it reported on the inadequacy of Shell’s previous halfhearted clean-up efforts that “the difference between a cleaned-up site and a site awaiting clean-up was not always obvious.” But Shell has publicly engaged with UNEP’s findings, saying it “hopes the UNEP report will be a catalyst for cooperation to address the challenges in Ogoniland” — signalling that it may be seriously considering a signficant commitment to the recommended clean-up. That’s why we need to ramp up public pressure now.

This starter fund won’t solve every problem — and it certainly won’t make up for the decades of death and destruction that Shell has brought upon the Niger Delta. But it would be a critical step in the right direction, and it’s one of the best chances that the region has ever had to start healing and cleaning up. That’s why we’re partnering with Friends of the Earth Netherlands and Amnesty International to create public pressure on Shell to start funding the clean-up.

Our friends at Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth are in negotiations with the company right now — and they want to deliver our petition from consumers at a meeting with Shell executives soon.

Thanks for fighting for corporate accountability, and for the people of the Niger Delta.

–Claiborne, Taren, Emma, Kaytee and the rest of us



More information:

Friends of the Earth Netherlands,

Amnesty International and CEHRD, Shell must pay US$1 billion in first step to clean up Niger Delta, 10 Nov 2011

New York Times, Far From Gulf, A Spill Scourge 5 Decades Old, June 16, 2010

The Guardian, Shell accepts liability for two oil spills in Nigeria, Aug 3, 2011

UNEP, Ogoniland Oil Assessment, Aug 4, 2011

BBC, Nigeria Ogoniland oil clean-up ‘could take 30 years’, Aug 4, 2011

Royal Dutch Shell PLC press release, SPDC action on matters addressed in the UNEP report, Aug. 11, 2011