Nigerian authorities say the country loses about $2.5 billion annually to gas flaring, while thousands of people in and around the oil-rich Delta region live in grinding poverty. The authorities have promised to set a deadline for oil firms operating in the area to stop the practice. Environmental watchdog groups say the flaring of gas has further polluted the region's water, air and farmlands. They also report a significant increase in birth defects.
Mike Karikpo is programs manager with the group Environmental Rights Action. He says the government is unlikely to follow through on its latest pledge to end gas flaring in the area.
"Talk is cheap. As at the last time, dates have been set for gas flare-out in Nigeria from 1965 till date and none of them have been met, so I am not too sure that there is any seriousness attached to the new statement by government that it intends to reduce gas flares to the barest minimum." He says, "I think the government and the oil companies are still playing the blame game, pointing at each other for not doing what they are supposed to be doing."
Karikpo says greed by oil firms and government officials is responsible for not reducing gas flaring. "We've talked about this, we've discussed it and analyzed why the government and oil companies have failed to come to a common ground. I think it is an issue of the fact that the two parties benefit from the flaring. I think it is a symbiotic relationship that benefits the government and oil companies."Karikpo says living in the areas affected is challenging. "It is terrible. I took some people from the U.S. to visit some of these communities not too far from Port Harcourt, and they could not believe what they saw -- the noise, the heat, the pollution, especially the rain and other pollutants that come out of it and the cancer-causing ingredients in the soil. I think it is terrible."