By Mamer Abraham
South Sudan considers drastic measures to address environmental pollution in oil-producing areas, national minister for environmental and forestry, Josephine Napwon has said.
According to the minister, there are reports of deformities among children born in Ruweng Administrative Area, Upper Nile and Unity States.
But she noted that such measures are likely to face hurdles as some big fish in the government are protecting the companies from being audited.
Acknowledging the reality of environmental pollution, particularly in oil-producing regions, Napwon claimed the companies are being protected by government officials, not to conduct environmental audits.
“It is a collective responsibility, and we need to show up because most of these companies are undercover by bug fishes in this county, and maybe some of you,” the minister said.
The minister was speaking on Tuesday; at the opening of the Third High-Level Meeting on Environmental issues and 5% share of oil revenue to oil-producing states.
She noted that the environmental policy 2015-2025 stated that all the oil companies must carry out environmental audits every year, yet the policy has been defied to date.
“In 2016, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry requested the oil companies to submit their environmental audit reports from 2011 onwards, unfortunately, none of the companies did submit the required reports meaning the annual environmental audits were not being conducted as required by the policy,” she continued.
The minister added that the major obstacle was that the ministry depended on the oil companies who are ironically polluting the environment to fund the environmental audit.
“The selected firms commenced the audit but due to the delay in the releasing of funds by the oil companies, the firms were unable to audit reports as planned. You can see the contradiction here,” she reiterated.
“We are getting the money from the same oil-producing companies, they are the ones polluting the environment but still we go to them and get the money because there is a percentage we are supposed to get for an environmental audit.”
Hussein Abdelbagi Ayii Akol, the vice president for the service cluster, cautioned against fraudulent activities by committees overseeing the 5% of oil revenue allocated to oil-producing states, which could enrich themselves and divide communities.
The vice president stated clearly that those committees when found would face the law for their deeds.
“So, if you are one of them who is in these committees you should be there to serve the people not to serve yourself. And this is for us is not acceptable. Committees which are formed for the purpose of serving our people and they went to serve themselves are going to be punished,” he continued.
He stressed the need for a clean environment in the oil-producing states adding that the government should formulate environmentally friendly policies to mitigate environmental pollution in the oil-producing states.
He suggested that two percent should be allocated for the mitigation of the environment in the oil-producing states from the total oil revenue.
Deng Deng Akoon, the speaker of the council of states said the government should invest in better oil exploration technologies that would help in limiting environmental issues.
“Environmental protection must be at the forefront of our efforts. We must invest in cutting-edge technologies and practices that minimize the ecological footprint of oil production,” he stated.
He argued that the focus must shift to the use of renewable energy, and funding research and development so that the environment is clean.
In June, the ministers for petroleum, environment, and Health were summoned by the council of states to confirm the prevalence of cases of children born with deformities in the oil-producing states as a result of oil pollution.
However, the three ministers requested the Council of States for a comprehensive environmental audit to be carried out.
Yolanda Awel Deng, the national minister for health said birth defects were related to several other issues including genetic inheritance, environmental factors as well as viral and parasitic infections as well as deficiencies of some nutrients.
“We are scientific-based ministries; we have to build scientific-based facts and data. We have to do research and make sure that there is some sort of evidence for it,” Awel said.
“If I were to go to international court with WHO and tell them we have birth defects in my country and it’s because of oil pollution, I would be told to prove it, and how am I going to prove it?” she added.