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Amnesty International Says Niger Delta is a 'Human Rights Tragedy'

A new report by Amnesty International says the oil industry in Nigeria's Niger Delta has brought profound misery and despair to millions of people who live in the region. The group blames the Nigerian government and multinational oil companies for what it calls a "human-rights tragedy."

The report titled "Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta", released Tuesday in Abuja, paints a dismal picture of the situation in the oil producing region.

It says the Niger Delta is characterized by massive poverty, and environmental degradation caused by the exploitation of crude oil and natural gas.

Amnesty International's Head of Business and Human Rights and co-author of the report, Audrey Gaughran, says pollution and environmental degradation have destroyed the livehood of millions of people in the Niger Delta.

"In the Niger Delta, in the oil producing areas, hundreds of thousands if not millions of people depend on fisheries and farming for their food and livelihoods. Oil spills, waste dumping, gas flaring, dredging of rivers, seismic operations - all of these activities of the oil industry have seriously damaged agricultural lands and waterways of the Niger Delta, thereby damaging peoples ability to catch fish, peoples' ability to grow food and have a livelihood."

Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, has pumped more than $600 billion-worth of crude from the southern delta states since the 1960s. But environmental degradation due to oil and gas extraction and a lack of basic resources such as fresh water and electricity, have angered some of the region's youth and incited them to take up arms.

Gaughran says the Nigerian government has failed in its responsibility of protecting the rights of the people in the Niger Delta to food, water, health and livelihood.

"The government is failing in the Niger Delta, seriously failing on many fronts," she said. "It is failing to enforce environmental laws and regulations. Too often, the face of government for many people in communities in the oil producing areas is the JTF [Joint Military Task Force]. They do not see the government come to protect them. They see the government come to protect the oil industry. And for the people this means the oil industry is going to be protected no matter what it does, and they, the people are not going to get their government's protection."

A study by a panel of independent experts in 2006 showed more than 1.5 million tons of oil had been spilled in the Niger Delta during the past 50 years. It said pollution had destroyed the livelihood of many of the 30 million people living there and contributed to the upsurge in violence.

While acknowledging that some communities and armed groups in the Niger Delta may have contributed to the problem of pollution, by vandalizing oil infrastructure and theft of oil, Amnesty says oil companies should take responsibility for nearly all oil spills and other oil-related pollution.