Julia Baird: We Don't Hear About Africa's Oil Spills





[Julia Baird joined Newsweek in February 2007 as Senior Editor for Science, Society and Ideas. In that role, she oversaw NEWSWEEK's coverage of social trends and scientific breakthroughs as well as fresh, important ideas. In 2009 she was made Deputy Editor.]

It was hard to believe BP when it announced oil had stopped gushing into the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, July 15. It had taken 87 days. There was relief but little jubilation: it will take many years to clean the shores and the birds, and for the sea to begin to repair itself from the onslaught of poisonous oil. Surely we can no longer call it a “spill”—it seems too light and trite a word.

What’s even more troubling is that in Nigeria, the country that has arguably suffered most from oil drilling, oil “accidents”—large and small—occur almost weekly, and we hear little about it. A lethal combination of sloppiness, corruption, weak regulation, and lack of accountability has meant that each year since the 1960s, there has been a spill the size of the Exxon Valdez’s into the Niger Delta. Large purple slicks cover once fertile fields, and rivers are clogged with oil leaked decades ago. It has been called the “black tide”: a stain of thick, gooey oil that has oozed over vast tracts of land and poisoned the air for millions of Africans. In some areas fish and birds have disappeared: the swamps are silent.

Americans consume a quarter of the world’s oil—and 10 percent of the oil we consume comes from Nigeria. Why are we not worried and angry about this? Or at least demanding global accountability from companies we support? Especially now that we can see how destructive it is for those who depend on the sea for their livelihood, how foul the impact is, and how devastating the results of poor decisions and ill-equipped response teams are....



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