From Laolu Akande, New York
THE United Nations (UN) is said to be planning a close monitoring of the cleanup of Ogoni oil spill recommended by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) in its report last week.
According to Martin Nesirky, the spokesperson to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the UN leader is being briefed about the details of the UNEP report, which called for the biggest oil spill cleanup ever recommended.
Although Nesirky did not state what the initial reaction of the secretary-general was to the report, UN sources say the matter is high up on Ban's agenda considering his global concern against pollution generally.
The UN sources added that the entire UN system especially the UNEP and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) would be deployed with specific instructions to help Nigeria, the United Kingdom, Netherlands and the oil companies involved, especially Shell to conduct an acceptable cleanup that is to last several years.
The resolve of the UN to conduct an effective follow-up according to sources is because the UNEP report itself detailed how oil companies and the Nigerian government failed to meet their own standards, and how the stipulated process of investigation, reporting and cleanup was deeply flawed in favour of the oil firms and against the victims.
For instance, while in the United States (U.S.), oil spills get immediate responses in order to avert community and media uproar, in the Niger Delta of Nigeria, where there are far more incidents of pollution, response if it comes at all can take as long as months.
Besides, sources say it would take a concerted effort to ensure that local contaminated areas in Ogoni are cleaned up in as long as five years, and the heavily-impacted mangrove areas and swamplands could even take a much longer number of years - as much as up to 30 years.
Short of an international focus and monitoring from a credible body like the UN, the cleanup may easily become a mirage, a source stated.
Equally, the report itself asked that all sources of ongoing contamination must be brought to an end before the cleanup of the creeks, sediments and mangroves can begin.
Indeed, western media outlets and non-governmental organisations have since been awash with comments on the findings of the UNEP, which has called for what is deemed as the biggest ever oil cleanup in world record.
For instance, Amnesty International while commenting on the UNEP report said "oil companies have been exploiting Nigeria's weak regulatory system for too long."
According to Audrey Gaughran of Amnesty International, the process of reporting and investigation of spills in Nigeria do not "adequately prevent environmental damage and they frequently fail to properly address the devastating impact that their bad practice has on people's lives."
Regarding follow-up measures, the UNEP report recommends establishing three new institutions in Nigeria to support a comprehensive environmental restoration.
A proposed Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority would oversee implementation of the study's recommendations and should be set up during a transition phase, which UNEP suggests should begin as soon as possible.
The authority's activities should be funded by an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland, to be set up with an initial capital injection of $1 billion contributed by the oil industry and the government, to cover the first five years of the clean-up.
A recommended Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre, to be built in Ogoniland and supported by potentially hundreds of mini-treatment centres, would treat contaminated soil and provide hundreds of job opportunities.
The report also recommends creating a Centre of Excellence in Environmental Restoration in Ogoniland to promote learning and benefit other communities impacted by oil contamination in the Niger Delta and elsewhere in the world.
Reforms of environmental government regulation, monitoring and enforcement, and improved practices by the oil industry are also recommended in the report.
The UNEP report stated already that the environmental restoration of Ogoniland oil region could prove to be the world's most wide-ranging and long-term oil clean-up ever, if contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and other ecosystems are to be brought back to full health, according to a UN report.
It could take 25 years to 30 years, with an initial investment of $1 billion just for the first five years, to clean up pollution from more than 50 years of oil operations in the Niger Delta, ranging from the "disastrous" impact on mangrove vegetation to the contamination of wells with potentially cancer-causing chemicals in a region that is home to some one million people.
The independent scientific assessment, carried out by the UNEP over a 14-month period, showed greater and deeper pollution than previously thought after an agency team examined more than 200 locations, surveyed 122 kilometres of pipeline rights of way, analyzed 4,000 soil and water samples, reviewed more than 5,000 medical records and engaged over 23,000 people at local community meetings