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Profiting from the Environment’s Ruin

“Shell started operating in Ogoni land in 1956, and commercial oil production started in 1958, and since then we have lived in the nightmare that we have now. Our lifestyles, and everything has changed for the worse.”

This is how indigenous Ogoni leader Celestine AkpoBari shares how oil extraction altered people’s lives until now.

“We were a food basket before the discovery of oil. There were rich fishing and farming practices. When the oil company came, they promised that our lives would be better… similar to that of the West”, AkpoBari shared during an international webinar.

Profiting from Digging our Graves: Mining TNCs (transnational companies), Plunder, and Countersalient Communities webinar last April 18 discussed the mining practices of transnational corporations operating in various parts of the globe. And this World Environment Day, the horror of irreversible destruction of earth still haunts Indigenous Peoples.

“Three decades later, they took the lands and the people continue to suffer pollution – fishing deteriorated, mangrove deteriorated. No checks and balances and oil spills began to occur in the land close to human habitation,” said AkpoBari. 

Although Shell Corporation halted drilling operations in the Niger delta’s Ogoniland in 1993, AkpoBari said the destruction it brought, including the skin of the people, ecosystem, and livelihood, persisted. 

“The people can no longer fish and farm, and families can no longer send their children to school. Lands cannot be maximized for agriculture because the lands are already dead. Lack of government intervention. Devastation of the ecosystem while defenders of the land are being executed just like what happened to Ken Saro-Wiwa.” 

For affected communities, the cancer causing carcinogens in wells and water sources will take 30 years to recover from the adverse exploitation of the environment, he shared. The Environmental assessment of Ogoniland report by UNEP in 2011 stated an alarming regularity of continuing oil spills and everyday pollution impacting people’s soil and groundwaters, vegatations, waters and public health.

Crimes, conflicts and security instability have been linked to the boom and bust of extraction in the Niger Delta. In addition, “the condition of women and children are very bad and are suffering. No means of livelihood, no means to send children to school that they resort to committing crimes,” AkpoBari stressed.

Environmental and Economic Justice

Last May, coinciding with Shell’s annual general meeting (AGM), the Africa Network for Environmental and Economic Justice rallied to “Shell should stop oil and gas extraction in Nigeria, and urged investors to stop funding Shell’s operations, owing to the environmental damage that the company’s operations were allegedly causing to the water, land, and human resources in Nigeria.”

AkpoBari’s group, including many environmental activists, representatives of host oil and gas communities, human rights groups, students, and youths joined the mobilization. They amplified the “NO” vote of communities and citizens who are the victims of Shell and other international oil and gas companies in the role of Shell in global warming and climate crisis.

“We call on Shell’s AGM to commit to a comprehensive cleanup of the entire Niger Delta,” called the network.

Who profits from destructive mining? 

Adding to the voices of mining-affected communities, Ms. Francisca Stuardo of Global Witness discussed their report on attacks on land and environmental defenders. She pointed out that these killings are increasing – as the records show from 2012 to 2021. According to Global Witness, the attacks are systemic violence, and perpetrators must be penalized for such economic, environmental, and sociological injustice.

Mr. Themson Jajo also shared the experiences of his community affected by the adverse effects of a Multipurpose project in Manipur. He describes the state of his community before and how it has changed drastically when the TNCs operate. With this, he clearly illustrated how women and children are put more at risk with the exploitation of their land.

Indigenous Tuwali-Ifugao, Miranda Dummang, discussed the on-ground impacts of multinational Oceanagold gold and copper mining in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya. She also noted how the local people have organized themselves to struggle for environmental justice and human rights.

The open forum generated significant insights into the effects of mining TNC operations on peoples’ rights and the environment. Panelists also answered questions from participants on topics ranging from union-busting, peoples resistance to mining companies, policy advocacy, and international engagement mechanisms. Participants also shared personal anecdotes of fighting for peoples’ rights, their land, and the environment.

Profiting from Digging our Graves: Mining TNCs, Plunder, and Countersalient Communities was organized by People Over Profit (PoP), Asia Pacific Network of Environment Defenders (APNED), Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN), Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines Inc. (CEC), International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL), and Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment.

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