Ruweng residents demand better health services

By: Opio Jackson

Located in the northern part of South Sudan, Ruweng is the most oil-producing area in South Sudan, about 80 % of the country’s oil is produced here. The oil field in Ruweng is owned and operate by the Chinese Greater Pioneer Operating Company (GPOC).

However, since the beginning of oil exploration in Ruweng there has been repeated incidents of oil spills in the area due to pipe rupture that led to subsequent health complications in the area and the community has raised an alarm over the increasing birth defects, miscarriages and other strange illness as they demand for better health services in the area.   

Bol Pugi, a resident of Ruweng now turned Administrative Area said there was serious infections in the area due to the polluted environment by the spilled oil.

He said the government needs to take the blood samples from affected people so as to find out the strange diseases affecting people in Ruweng.

“The exploration oil should not continue because up to now we are not benefiting and our environment is totally polluted,” Bol said.

“There is need to create awareness and our local people should be advised not drink water from the well because our environment has been polluted,” he added. 

Bol stressed that according to the Petroleum Act, the state government was supposed to get three percent and the two percent oil revenue was supposed to go to the community.

“The community has to prioritize their projects on the two percent of the oil revenue but this has not been taking place,” he said.

Bol said the community deserves better health facilities, schools and roads.

Although there has been no clear link established between the pollution and the health problems, the community said before the start of oil exploration in Ruweng there were no cases of birth deformities.

According to an environmental study by the local advocacy group, birth deformities around the oil fields in Ruweng almost tripled between 2015 and 2017, from 19 percent to 54 percent.

Edmund Yakani, Executive Director of Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO) described the oil spills in Ruweng as abuse of human rights.

He said the environmental disaster in Ruweng clearly demonstrates government failure in commissioning a quick environmental assessment.

“What we are experiencing today is the outcome of the failure of the state to assess in advanced the impact of oil exploration. Personally I hold the state accountable for its failure to hold the Company accountable. The company was supposed to be held accountable to ensure that the oil exploration is taken into account all the negative implications on human lives. This is human rights violation and the company needs to be held accountable,” Yakani explained.

He reiterated that the first player to be held accountable was the government through the Ministry of Environment and the Parliamentary Committee on Environment and Human Rights.

“They were supposed to be strong enough to protect the lives of our citizens but now we are experiencing the cases of birth deformities and environmental pollution,” Yakani said.

The activist called on the national parliament to quickly assess the human rights violation associated with oil sector.

Article 28 of the Petroleum Management Act mandates the Ministry of Petroleum to allocate two percent share of the petroleum revenue to every petroleum producing state. 

The money is meant for improving the quality of life of the local communities in the area by constructing roads, hospital schools and other infrastructures.

The community from the oil producing state have often complained of not benefiting from the oil exploration.

The former Information Minister of defunct Ruweng State Abraham Ngor Athoi revealed that the state had received the first petroleum revenue share since 2012.

He said it was only an amount for one month that has been released by the national government to producing states.

Yakani called for transparency in the oil revenue received and urged Ruweng authorities to disclose to the community how much money they have received.

“The state government said it will use the five percent to construct roads and feeder roads but it is better for them to ask their citizens to find out what are their priorities,” Yakani said. 

An official from Ruweng, who asked not to be named since he was not authorized to speak to the media, blamed the Greeter Pioneer Operating Company (GPOC) over the repeated oil spills in the area.

He said GPOC did not only fail to protect the environment but also has caused more negative health implications on the community.

“We are preparing to open a court case against the company for polluting the environment and our lawyer has started the process already,” the person said, adding that “GPOC must be held accountable.”

Jame David Kolok, Executive Director for Foundation for Democracy and Accountable Governance (FODAG) said wherever there is an oil exploration in a particular area, there must be an environmental impact assessment.

He said the study can assess the impact of the oil exploration to the existing community around the oil field.

“Unfortunately the government and the oil companies don’t seem to have a very comprehensive environmental impact assessment and if they have I think the level of the implementation has been very poor,”Jame said.

“When you look at the impact of oil exploration, it is a clear manifestation that the companies are not committed to the health of the human beings living in the area. They are committed to ensuring their oil is flowing,” he added.

The activist stressed the need for the Revitalized-Transitional Government of National Unity(R-TGoNU) to hold the company accountable for the consequences caused through the oil spills.

Jame stressed that affected families need to be compensated saying there are several reports on the emerging and unexplained illness among the community in Ruweng.

“We have seen cases of children born without certain parts of the body that clearly demonstrated that the impact of oil spill is very serious and some actions need to be taken,” he said.

“This community do not have health facilities neither roads and clean drinking water. The existing water sources in the area are polluted by the oil spills. The community don’t have anything that shows they are benefiting from the oil,” Jame added. 

He said the community deserve better health services to ensure that their women do not die of labour issues.

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