Mothers give birth to deformed babies due to oil pollution

An oil spill in the Unity oilfield in the past (Image: Radio Tamazuj)

The community in South Sudan’s Unity State’s Koch County has demanded that the government and oil companies operating in their area compensate them for pollution and other negative effects occasioned by the extraction of crude oil.

According to a February 2020 report by American public broadcaster, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) News, the oil industry in South Sudan has left a landscape pocked with hundreds of open waste pits, the water and soil contaminated with toxic chemicals and heavy metals including mercury, manganese and arsenic.

They said this was according to four environmental reports obtained by The Associated Press.

The reports also contained accounts of “alarming” birth defects, miscarriages, and other health problems among residents of the region and soldiers who have been stationed there.

Residents also described women as unable to get pregnant.

The reports, PBS News said at the time, date as far back as 2013 and were presented to the oil companies and South Sudan’s Ministry of Petroleum but subsequently buried, according to four people with close knowledge of the oil operations and the documents. All spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of their safety.

Koch County Hospital Director, Dr Daniel Gatkuoth told Radio Tamazuj that the cause of babies being born with deformities is oil pollution in parts of the county where there is extraction of crude oil.

He said the hospital has registered 15 cases, seven females and eight males, of deformed babies born since 2019 to date. All of them later died at the hospital.

“All 15 cases happened in Koch Hospital and they were registered here. We have requested the government and oil companies to compensate the affected communities but up to now nothing has materialised,” he said.

Adding: “We have severally appealed to the Sudd Petroleum Operating Company (SPOC) to compensate families whenever there have been cases of a deformed baby born at the Koch County Hospital. However, no recompense has taken place since 2019 when the first case was registered.”

“People are dying in their homes, we have seen a lot of deformed infants and our animals are dying,” Dr Gatkuoth revealed.

He appealed to the government, the Transitional National Assembly (TNLA) and the petroleum ministry among other entities to come up with strong legislation to stop pollution and protect the environment.

The health official also said the local communities in Koch County have not benefited from the proceeds from the sale of crude oil allocated to oil-producing communities.

“These allocations were mainly made so that communities and states where there is production benefit from the oil but if it is not being used accordingly, then it is a big issue,” the hospital director continued.

Dr Riak Koang, a member of the civil society in Unity State, said that he has confirmed over the years that cases of children being born with deformities and the deaths of livestock among others due to oil and chemical pollution occur all over the state.

“As members of the civil society, we are calling for community awareness in Unity State generally to educate our communities about the environmental impacts of oil pollution. Our people do not know how to protect themselves from oil pollution because they were not educated before and even after South Sudan’s independence,” he stated.

“Both the government and oil companies in the state do not take care about the affected communities. They are supposed to provide awareness to affected communities because they have money to run such activities.”

Mr Peter Dak Riak, an SPLM-IO legislator representing Koch County in the Unity State Legislative Assembly, said health, safety and environmental safeguards and best practices have never been implemented in the oil fields of the county since before independence.

“I represent Koch County in the state parliament and we used to come up with motions in every session of parliament to ensure that affected communities are compensated because they lose babies, lives, property, livestock, and grazing land and gardens among others every month due to oil pollution,” he explained.

“I was on the fact-finding committee that was formed in 2022 by the Unity State Legislative Assembly to go to Tharjiath and assess how oil pollution has affected the communities.  Unfortunately, Governor Dr Joseph Monytuil and the commissioner of Koch County did not allow us to go on the ground.”

“We are advocating for recompense for the affected communities and robust environmental policies to stop continued pollution and to protect the people in oil-producing areas,” Mr Dak added.

According to the legislator, the TNLA Committee in Finance and Economic Planning in July ordered the national finance ministry to halt the remittance of the three per cent share from oil revenues to oil-producing counties in Unity State because the money was not reaching the intended beneficiaries but being pocketed by officials.

Source: Radio Tamazuj

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