TheHistory of Environnetal Movements
Environmental issues and forms of environmental concern have a very long history; awareness of the environmental consequences of economic development was given an increasingly political character from the 1950s onwards. Individuals produced provocative studies warning of particular threats to the environment, as with Rachel Carson's well-known criticism of the increased use of DDT as a pesticide. Groups formed to press for solutions to particular or local problems or sought to get the political system to respond. Think tanks, such as the Club of Rome, published accounts dramatizing the potential depletion of the Earth's resources. International agencies, including the United Nations Environment Programme began holding international conferences and promoting detailed studies of issues as part of an effort to get more coordinated and effective responses to increasingly global environmental problems. Later, protest movements, linking up with late 1960s student radicalism and with various anti-war mobilizations, took to the streets and forests in efforts to get a political response. In some places the mainstream political parties began to respond; in others, environmental concern was mocked and marginalized.
After the period of 1970 there was a spurt in environmental movements. Porter and Welsh Brown estimate that by the early 1980s there were approximately 13000 environmental movements in the Third World Countries, such as African NGO environmental network (ANEN) formed in 1982. Twenty one environmental NGOs were among the founding organizations, but by 1990, membership has swelled to 530 NGOs in forty-five countries. In Latin America and the Caribbean, there are currently 6000 environmental NGOs, most of them formed since 1970s, India has some 12000 development NGOs, Bangladesh has 10000 NGO and Philippines has 18000 NGOs.
And in the Developed world, North America, Australia and parts of Scandinavia the environmental agenda has often been dominated by attempts to protect wilderness areas from the intrusion and excesses of human development. Here environmental conflict has challenged the dominant goals of advanced capitalism and industrialism, such as unlimited growth and the rights of private property. It would be wrong to view environmental politics simply as challenge of capitalist orthodoxy.
In Europe, environmental politics developed as a rejection of state socialism's promotion of rapid and ecologically damaging forms of industrial and agricultural development. As part of the East European ‘velvet revolutions' of the late 1980s, environmentalists championed pluralist democracy and 'free-market' economic solutions derived from the tenets of capitalism, in a bid to overthrow decades of rigid, bureaucratic and authoritarian rule.
Asian, African and other Third World countries have used environmental debates to challenge a different and global status quo, where a few affluent and powerful countries have access to disproportionately greater amounts of the Earth's limited resources. The governments of these countries are more concerned with promoting economic development to raise the standard of living of their populations. In these countries, environmental politics often focuses on issues of human survival such as the adequate provision of housing, food and employment, as well as safe work and healthy living conditions.
Governments of some industrializing countries oppose moves from the USA and Europe to impose global environmental objectives on them. Hence, in the international debates over greenhouse problems, Malaysia has set itself firmly against any moves that would make it harder for it to industrialize and export its goods. It should be noted that within these industrializing developing countries environmental issues are still raised by groups of environmental activists. For example in Nigeria, the struggle of the Ogoni people against the military regime has strong environmental theme. Here, poor people protest against the damage being done to their land by the polluting activities of Shell Nigeria. In Indonesia, environmental groups oppose the logging of rain forests; in India, environmentalist activists oppose excessive logging of forests, the polluting consequences of industrialization, and the environmental damage associated with population growth and urbanization, and they are concerned about the consequence of global climate change. Further, in many parts of the world environmental politics has been used to contest inequalities and differences in power based on gender, class, race and species.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
The Narmada Bachavo Andolan in India
The Narmada is one of India's most sacred rivers. Holier than even the Ganges. In its vast basin live a phenomenal twenty million Indians; nearly half of them protected tribal or schedule castes. In the forests along the river banks is a huge wildlife population. For centuries, the river, flowing majestically westwards into the Arabian Sea, has nourished the people on its banks, both materially and spiritually.
The Narmada Valley Development Project is the single largest river development scheme in India. It is one of the largest hydroelectric projects in the world and will displace approximately 1.5 million people from their land in three states (Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh).The environmental costs of such a project, which involves the construction of more than 3,000 large and small dams, are immense. The project will devastate human lives and biodiversity by inundating thousands of acres of forests and agricultural land. The State” (India) wants to build these dams on the Narmada River in the name of National Development.
Like in the case of Chipko Movement Narmada Bachavo Andolan was successfully ensuring the mass mobilization , they adopted nonviolent actions like the Sit-in as water rise (1993), Sit-in hunger strike (1997), Mobilization begins in tribal belt (1985), Sacrifice in water threat (1993), Marches, sit-ins fasts, arrests (1989), capture of dam-sit (1998) ..etc.
The ‘Rally for the Valley’ organized by noted writer and booker prize winner Arundhati Roy in support of Narmada Bachao Andolan's ongoing Satyagraha, against unjust displacement and submergence, at Jalsindhi (Madhya Pradesh) and Domkhedi (Maharashtra), numbering not less than 500 people.
Arundathi Roy and many others walked by foot to understand the seriousness of the issue in depth and extend their support to the tribal who always travel by foot, about 4-5 hours from Mathwad and part of the rally including some old people traveled by boat to Jalsindhi. All the rallyists were warmly welcomed by the villagers and satyagrahis including Medha Patkar at Jalsindhi, The Narmada Bachao Andolan strongly condemnt the highhanded and paranoid behavior of the Gujarat government since there was no plan for the rally to come through Kawant and Hafeshwar. The NBA and the organizers of the rally had announced time and again that their route to Jalsindhi will be through Kakrana in M.P. and not through Hafeshwar. The Gujarat government and the pro-dam vested interests, as usual, have been raising the non-issue and have been trying to whip up frenzy in Gujarat for no reason. That has always been the modus operendi of the vested interests and fascist forces in Gujarat.
Friend of river Narmada
The struggle against the construction of megadams on the River Narmada in India is symbolic of a global struggle for social and environmental justice. The Friends of River Narmada is an international coalition of individuals and organizations .In particular, they are a support and solidarity network for the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada movement), which has been fighting for the democratic rights of the citizens of the Narmada Valley. The Friends of River Narmada holds that the Narmada Valley Development Project (NVDP) has been conceived without adequate participation from the people who are going to be affected.
(1) That many dams of the NVDP are not viable solutions to many of the problems (power, drinking water, flood control, irrigation) they set out to solve, and that there needs to be a greater emphasis on the search for alternative solutions from all concerned (Government, NGOs, people).
(2) That the construction and planning of many dams of the NVDP has disrupted (and will potentially disrupt) the lives of millions of people without just and adequate compensation;
(3) That the people of the Narmada Valley are waging a just and legitimate struggle to assert their right to life, livelihood, and participation in their own development;
(4) That while the country can ask for sacrifices from its people, such people must be justly and adequately compensated for the sacrifices that they are thus making;
(5) That while the country can ask for sacrifices from the people of the Valley for the greater cause of national progress, the burden of sacrifice should be distributed across the nation, and not be restricted to a specific group of people;
(6) That the NVDP is merely an example of a much bigger problem that is manifesting itself across the country: the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, the Enron controversy in the Dabhol Power Project in Maharashtra, the controversy over the Cogentrix project, the forgery of Environmental Clearances by Ernst & Young; the controversy over the construction of the Bangalore-Mysore highway, the human rights abuses over the port construction at Maroli, and the list goes on.
(7) That the struggle in the Narmada Valley consequently throws up much deeper issues about the developmental choices being followed in India and elsewhere, and that there needs to be a much wider debate of these choices;
(8) That the Narmada Bachao Andolan is a symbol of hope for people's movements all over the world that are fighting for just, equitable, and participatory development.
The Chipko movement emerged in the early 1970s in the Garhwal region of the Himalayas. In attempting to draw attention to the difficulty of sustaining their livelihoods in the region, local communities engaged in protest by hugging trees marked for felling in state owned commercial forests. As this account spread across the country and elsewhere, Chipko was transformed into a shining symbol of grassroots activism. Ironically, as ecologists embraced the story worldwide, eco-feminists, policy makers and academics so it became increasingly disconnected from the realities that gave rise to the original protests.
Chipko now exists almost as a myth, tenuously linked to an imagined space of the Himalayas that represents the timeless realm of pristine nature and simple peasant life, a terrain that escapes history. Or, in the more prosaic language of policy makers, it is one of several ‘disturbances’ to have emerged from a mountainous region that has, since the late 1800s, been characterized as backward or isolated.
The Chipko movement is historically, philosophically and organizationally an extension of the traditional Gandhian Satyagraha. Its special significance lies in the fact that it took place in post independent India. The continuity between the pre- independence and post-independence forms of this Satyagraha has beer provided by Gandhian, including Sri Dey Suman, Mira Behn and Sarala Bhen. Sri Dey Suman was initiated into Gandhian Satyagraha at the time of the Salt Satyagraha. He died as a martyr for the cause of the Garhwall people's right to survive with dignity and freedom. Both Mira Behn and Sarala Behn were close associates of Gandhiji. They settled in the interior of the Himalayas and established ashrams. Sarala Behn settled in Kumaon, and Meera Behn lived in Garhwal till the time she left for Vienna due to ill health. Equipped with the Gandhian worldview of development based on justice and ecological stability, they contributed silently to the growth of women power and ecological consciousness in the hill area of Uttar Pradesh. The influence of these two European followers of Gandhiji on the heritage of struggle for social justice and ecological stability in the hills of Uttar Pradesh has been immense and they generated a new brand of Gandhian activist who provided the foundation for the Chipko movement. Sunder Bahuguna is prominent among the new generations of the workers deeply inspired by the Gandhian thought. Influenced by Sri Dev Suman, he joined the independence movement at the age of 13. Later, he worked with Meera Behn in Bhilanga Valley and was trained in her ecological vision.
Mira Bhen had thus identified not merely deforestation but change in species suitable to commercial forestry as the reason for ecological degradation in the Himalayas. She recognized that the leaf litter of Oak forests was the primary mechanism for water conservation in the Himalayan mountain watersheds. The Banj leaves, falling as they do, year by year, create a rich black mould in which develops a thick tangled mass of undergrowth (bushes, creepers, and grasses), which in their turn add to the leaf mould deposit and the final result is a forest in which almost all the rain water becomes absorbed. Some of it evaporates back into the air and the rest percolates slowly down, to the lower altitudes, giving out here and there beautiful sweet and cool springs. It would be difficult to imagine a more ideal shock absorber for the monsoon rains than a Banj forest.
The Chir pine produces just the opposite effect. It creates with its pine needles a smooth, dry carpet, which absorbs nothing and which at the same time prevents the development of any undergrowth worth the name. In fact, often the ground in a Chir pine forest is as bare as a desert. When the torrential rains of the monsoon beat down on these southern slopes of the Himalayas, much of the pine needle carpet gets washed away with the water and erosion invariably takes place, because these needles, being non-absorbent, create no leaf-mould, but only a little very inferior soil, which is easily washed out from the rocks and stones.
Inheriting these early lessons in ecology, Bahuguna was later able to transfer this ecological perspective to Chipko. The rapid spread of resistance in the hills of Uttar Pradesh and its success in enforcing changes in forest management was also largely due to the awareness created by folk poets like Ghanshyam Raturi, and grassroots organizational efforts of a number of people including Man Singh Rawat, Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Dhoorn Singh Negi Bhatt, who later became well known for his work, became an activist at the behest of Bahuguna in 1959 when they met at a bus station in Gopeshwar where Bhatt was working as a booking clerk and Bahuguna, along with Rawat and Raturi, was waiting for a bus during an organizational trip through Gopeshwar. Having found Bhatt a promising activist, Bahuguna invited him to join them.
The Chipko movement is the contemporary expression of a continuing heritage of peaceful resistance by the people of Uttarakhand. In the post-independence period, under the coordination of Sarala Behn, the Gandhians organized themselves into the Uttarakhand Sarvodaya Mandal in 1961. The Sarvodaya movement in the sixties was organized around four major issues:
(1) The organization of women.
(2) Fight against alcohol consumption.
(3) Fight for forest rights.
(4) The establishment of local, forest based small industries.
While the fight against alcohol consumption provided the platform for the organization of women, the increasing conflict over forest produce between the local and non local industries provided the rallying point for popular protest during the studies. In 1968 the people of Garwhal renewed their resolve to fight for their forests in a memorial meeting held at Tilari on 30 May.
The platform for the organization of women was thus ready by the seventies and this decade saw the beginning of more frequent and more vocal popular protests on the rights of the people to protect and utilize local forests. In 1971 Swami Chidanandji of Rishikesh undertook a month-long march to bless the people in their struggle. The year 1972 witnessed the most widespread organized protests against commercial exploitation of Himalayan forests by outside contractors in Uttarkashi on 12 December, and in Gopeshwar on 15 December. It was during these two protest meetings that Raturi composed his famous poem describing the method of embracing the trees to save them from felling:
Embrace the trees and save them from being felled,
The property of our hills;
Save them from being looted
While the concept of saying trees from felling by embracing them is old in Indian culture, as was the case of Bishnoies, in the context of the current phase of the movement for forest rights in Uttarakhand this popular poem written in 1972 is the earliest source of the now famous name ‘Chipko’. In 1973 the tempo of the movement in the two centers Uttarkashi and Gopeshwar reached new heights. Raturi and Bhatt were the main organizers in these two places. While a meeting of the Saryodaya Mandal was in progress in Gopeshwar in April 1973, the first popular action to chase contractors away erupted spontaneously in the region, when the villagers demonstrated against the felling of ash trees in Mandal forest. Bahuguna immediately asked his colleagues to proceed on a foot march in Chamoli district following the axe men and encouraging people to oppose them wherever they went. Later in December 1973, there was a militant nonviolent demonstration in Uttarkashi in which thousands of people participated. In March 1974, twenty seven women under the leadership of Goura Devi saved a large number of trees from a contractors axe in Reni. Following this, the government was forced to abolish the private contract system of felling and in 1975 the Uttar Pradesh Forest Corporation was set up to perform this function. This was the first major’s achievement of the movement and marks the end of a phase in itself.
Bureaucratization however, cannot replace a civilizational response to the forest crisis. The ecological limits of forest extraction was hardly recognized and estimated. Ecological problems were accentuated leading to increased suffering of women who were responsible for bringing water, collecting fodder, etc. During the next five years Chipko resistance for forest protection spread to various parts of the Garhwal Himalayas. It is important to note that it was no longer the old demand for a supply of forest products for local small industries but the new demand for ecological control on forest resource extraction to ensure a supply of water and fodder that was being aired. In May 1977 Chipko activists in Henwal Valley organized themselves for future action. In June of the same year, Sarala Behn organised a meeting of all the activists in the hill areas of Uttar Pradesh, which further strengthened the movement and consolidated the resistance to commercial felling as well as excessive tapping of resin from the Chir pine trees. In Gotars forests in the Tehri range the forest ranger was transferred because of his inability to curb illegal over tapping of resin. Consciousness was so high that in the Jogidanda area of the Saklana range, the public sector corporation, Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam, was asked to regulate its resin tapping activity.
Among the numerous instances of Chipko’s successes throughout the Garhwal Himalayas in the years to follow, are those in Adwani, Amarsar and Badiyargarh. The auction of Adwani forests took place in October 1977 in Narender Nagar, the district headquarters. Bahuguna undertook a fast against the auction and appealed to the forest contractors as well as the district authorities to refrain from auctioning the forests. The auction was undertaken despite the expression of popular discontent. In the first week of December 1977, the Adwani forest was scheduled to be felled. Large groups of women led by Bachhni Devi came forward to save the forests. Interestingly, Bachhni Devi was the wife of the local village head, who was himself a contractor.Chipkos activist Dhoom Singh Negi supported the women’s struggle by undertaking a fast in the forest itself. Women tied sacred threads to the trees as a symbol of a vow of protection. Between 13 and 20 December a large number of women from fifteen villages guarded the forests while discourses on the role of forests in Indian life from ancient texts continued non-stop. It was here that the ecological slogan was born:
What do the forest bear?
Soil, Water and Pure Air!!!
The axe men withdrew only to return on 1 February 1978 with two truckloads of armed police. The plan was to encircle the forests with the help of the police in order to keep the people away during the felling operation. Even before the police could reach the area volunteers of the movement entered the forests and explained their case to the forest laborers who had been brought in from distant places. By the time the contractors arrived with the police each tree was being guarded by three volunteers who embraced the trees. The police, having been defeated in their own plan and seeing the level of awareness among the people, hastily withdrew before nightfall.
In March 1978 a new auction was planned in Narendra Nagar. A large popular demonstration was organized against it and the police arrested twenty three Chipko volunteers, including women. In December 1978 a massive felling programmes was planned by the public sector Uttar Pradesh Forest Development Corporation in the Badiyargarh region. The local people instantly informed Bahuguna who started a fast unto death at the felling site, on 9 January 1979. On the eleventh day of his fast Bahuguna was arrested in the middle of the night. This act only served to further strengthen the commitment of the people. Folk poet Ghanashyarn Raturi and priest Khima Shastri led the movement as thousands of men and women from the neighboring villages joined them in the Badiyargarh forests. The people remained in the forests and guarded the trees for eleven days, when the contractors finally withdrew. Bahuguna was released from Jail on 31 January 1979.
The cumulative impact of the sustained grassroots struggles to protect, forests was a rethinking of the forest management strategy in the hill areas. The Chipko demand for the declaration of the Himalaya forests as protection forests instead of production forests for commercial exploitation was recognized at the highest policy-making level. The late Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, after a meeting with Bahuguna, recommended a fifteen year ban on commercial green felling in the Himalayan forests of Uttar Pradesh.
Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan (BAPA)
Poribesh Rakkha Shopoth (POROSH) was formed in 1997 to mobilize citizen’s initiative for protection and development of the environment of Bangladesh was created because of the urgency felt by a group of concerned Bangladeshi citizens to act in order to prevent the rapid degradation of our environment. Porosh was the principal organizer, together with Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology (BUET), Bangladesh Environment Network (BEN) and Coalition of Environment NGO’s (CEN), of the International Conference on Bangladesh Environment held on January 14-15, 2000 (ICBEN 2000). Another about 60 organizations, including Universities, research institutions, professional associations, government agencies and above all NGOs dealing with environment joined as co-organizers. The conference brought together over 500 Bangladeshi participants, from various segments of the society, both home and abroad. Deliberations held in 20 technical sessions, in five parallel streams, yielded a set of recommendations for action by the people and the Government of Bangladesh. These recommendations were adopted as the Dhaka Declaration on Bangladesh Environment. The Bangladesh press extensively Dhaka Declaration on Bangladesh Environment.
By bringing about seventy organizations together, the ICBEN 2000 has set a very good stage for launching a broad-based environment movement in Bangladesh. The prerequisites for such a movement are consolidation of this remarkable unity and its further expansion. To this end, the conference proposed formation of an overarching framework called the Bang Organization
Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan (BAPA) is governed by its constitution prepared and approved by the Annual General Meeting. General membership of BAPA is open to any citizen, organization or agent who believes in the vision and mission of BAPA. Any citizen may be a life member of BAPA by a onetime subscription as per provision of the constitution.
The constitution of BAPA provides for three tiers of governing bodies General Council, National Committee and Executive Committee. General Council, comprising members of all categories, is the highest authority of BAPA. It meets once in two years to formulate new policy and review the activities and finances of the organization. It also elects the National Committee.
The National Committee adopts policies and monitors activities of BAPA in the period between the General Council meetings. It also elects the Executive Committee for a term of two years. The Executive Committee, which meets at least once every month, is responsible for day-to-day activities of BAPA. Green Force, an organization of young environmental activists, is affiliated to BAPA.
(1) To influence Government to adopt appropriate legal instruments for conservation of environment
(2) To ensure that appropriate authorities undertake enforcement of laws and implementation of directives related to environment
(3) To create awareness among the polluters, users, stakeholders and sufferers about the effect of the environment pollution.
(4) To promote environmental education in the society and secure environment-friendly behaviour in social and personal life of the people of Bangladesh
(5) To improve quality of life by mitigating environmental pollution.
Green Belt Movement
The Green Belt Movement is a grassroots organization based in Kenya and it focuses on environmental conservation and community development. Green Belt Movement has undergone tremendous growth and evolution over several years. It was founded in 1977 by Wangari Mutta Maathai, known then as Envirocare.
Wangari Maathai joined the National Council of Women of Kenya and was actively participating in it. She introduced the idea of Envirocare to her colleagues and, after consultations and discussions; they agreed that it was necessary to establish such an initiative. However, rather than impose the name Envirocare on them, Wangari and her colleagues derived a new name for the organization: Save the Land Harambee.
As the campaign progressed, many people at the grassroots joined in the tree-planting exercise because they realized the importance of soil conservation and reforestation. The strategy that Save the Land Harambee employed involved encouraging community members to plant trees in large areas of public land so as to form green belts of trees. Many with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm embraced this strategy and it was not long before the organization became synonymous with Green Belts. To capture the dynamism that was instrumental to its success, the name of the organization was changed from Save the Land Harambee to The Green Belt Movement (GBM) a name that it has retained ever since.
In addition to forming Green Belts on public lands, the need to plant trees on private land also arose since more than 90% of the rural population use fuel wood in their homes on a daily basis. In response to this need, GBM encouraged community members to organize themselves into groups, become members of the organization and then establish a tree nursery and distribute seedlings to community member’s free-of-charge. In return, GBM promised to compensate these groups in monetary terms for the seedlings that they distributed. To make the whole process effective as well as ensure a high survival rate of trees, GBM developed a methodology, which is now known as the ten-step procedure for tree planting.
The main objectives of Green Belt Movement
(1) To promote environmental conservation and sustainable development.
(2) To avert desertification process throughout Africa through planting of trees.
(3) To encourage tree planting soil rehabilitation, water harvesting, reforestation.
(4) To protect the catchments areas, many of which have been deforest rated.
(5) To protect Zero-grazing and organic farming as a means of improving soil fertility and food production.
The Green Belt Movement grew very fast. By the early 1980s there were estimated to be 600 tree nurseries, involving 2000, 3000 women. About 2000 public Green Belts with about a thousand seedlings each had been established and over half a million school children were involved. Some 15000 farmers had planted woodlots on their own farms. In 1986 the movement established a Pan African Green Belt Network and has introduced over 40 individuals from other African countries to its approach. This has led to the adoption of Green Belt methods in Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and some other countries of the region.
The Movements for the Survival of Ogoni People
Nigeria, the giant of Africa and the black nation of the world, is totally dependent on single export commodity oil. She is the fifth largest producer of crude oil in the world. There has been a progressive increase in the oil revenue from a paltry 5.9% in 1964 to a staggering 90% and above, of Nigeria’s foreign exchange today. Although Nigeria has major tribes such as Hausa, Yoruba and Ibo, the land of the minority groups such as the Edo, Efik, Ibibio, Ijaw, Ikwere, Isoko, Isekiri, Kalabari, Ogoni and others which, because of their small numbers, have little or no say in resource allocation and development. However, the worst hit of the groups is Ogoni land
The Ogoni are a distinct ethnic group within Nigeria. The territory forms part of the eastern-most extension of the mainland fringe bordering the eastern Niger Delta. Covering a total area of approximately 404 square miles and it forms part of the coastal plain terraces, which from here appears as a gently sloping plateau. The Ogoni number an estimated 500000 people and its population density of about 1250 persons per square mile compared with the national average of 300 per square mile, is among the highest in any rural area of the world.
Before the advent of colonialism, there was a very well established social system and with its rich plateau soil, Ogoni was a blessed land. The fresh water streams and the surrounding seas brimmed with fish; the forests had an abundance of animals and hard wood preserved by the environmentally conscious Ogoni. The Ogoni who are known to be very hard working and fiercely independent were competent farmers and fishermen, producing food not only for their subsistence but also for most of the Niger Delta and its northern neighbours.
The Ogoni people’s struggle against the pollution and resources destruction by the oil industry in their homeland shows how environmental concerns coincide with struggles for self-determination. In 1958, when Nigeria was a colony, Royal Dutch Shell oil discovered large deposit of petroleum and natural gas in Ogoni land that Shell and British government and later, the Nigerian government sought to exploit their revenue. Oil export has since become vital to the Nigerian economy; revenue from oil export has brought approximately $30 billion since 1958, and in recent years accounted for approximately 95% of Nigeria’s export income.
But the oil industry has brought severe ecological problems to Ogoni land, an area of 650 sq km on the Niger River delta. Although densely populated, the area’s rich land and waterways have traditionally supported the Ogoni’s farming and fishing economy. Indigenous peoples of the oil rich Niger Delta region continue to suffer environmental degradation, poverty and violence to the hands of oil companies that operate in the area. The companies themselves, together with the Nigerian and Northern country governments are responsible for the present state of things.
Shell, that holds a sad record during its long history in the Niger Delta, has set aside a total of $1billion to develop its offshore oil and gas field in the region. This project is being financed by a funding agreement between oil companies in Nigeria and the Nigerian Petroleum Corporation. Since oil accounts for 90% of Nigeria's foreign earnings, the Nigerian Government is interested in increasing the country's crude oil production at all cost. At the same time, the state is in charge of the security of the area. This does not mean defending the right of local communities to live in peace in a healthy environment but, on the contrary, defending oil companies interests to the detriment of the Niger Delta population. The Nigerian government is not alone in this task. The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) has recently denounced that the US government has granted military aid consisting of eight fast attack vessels to the Nigerian Navy, in order to patrol the region.
The Niger Delta is one of the world’s largest wetlands, and the largest in Africa: it encompasses over 20000 square kilometers. It is a vast floodplain built up by the accumulation of centuries of silt washed down the Niger and Benue rivers, composed of four main ecological zones coastal barrier islands, mangroves, fresh water swamp forests, and lowland rainforests whose boundaries vary according to the patterns of seasonal flooding.
The mangrove forest of Nigeria is the third largest in the world and the largest in Africa. Over 60 percent of this mangrove, or 6,000 square kilometers, is found in the Niger Delta. The freshwater swamp forests of the delta reach 11700 square kilometers and are the most extensive in west and central Africa. The Niger Delta region has the high biodiversity characteristic of extensive swamp and forest areas, with many unique species of plants and animals. It also contains 60 to 80 percent of all Nigerian plant and animal species. The Niger Delta alone has 134 fresh water and brackish water fish species as compared with 192 for the entire continent of Europe.
Such a fertile land was ill treated and destroyed by the transnational companies in the oil sector, such as Shell, Agip, Mobil, Texaco and Chevron. These companies exploited the land as well as the people. Thousands were displaced; forests were burnt; rivers were flowing with toxic waste. The story of oil and gas in Africa is the story of rogue exploitation, despoliation and bizarre brigand age.
But in spite of the brutality of the TNC-government alliance, people continued to resist the destruction of their environment and livelihoods. Such resistance is fraught with danger. Ken Saro Wiwa, a leader of the Movement of the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), struggling against the destruction of Ogoni land by oil companies, was legally assassinated by hanging in November 1995, but his message is as strong as ever. Ken described the environment in Ogoni as having been completely devastated by three decades of reckless oil exploitation or ecological warfare by Shell. An ecological war is highly lethal, the more so as it is unconventional. It is homicidal in effect. Human life, flora, fauna, the air, fall at its feet, and finally, the land itself dies.
Ken Saro Wiwa joined the movement convinced that success depended on both high-profile protest actions and international support. He supported the sabotage of Shell oil facilities, carried out by the movement younger members. Hoping to win the favor of the environmentalist in England and the United States, Saro Wiwa filmed the degradation of Ogoni land and distributed the footage abroad. His afford caught the attention of environmental groups such as Greenpeace as well as the international media, which further publicized Shell oil’s activities.
Meanwhile Shell ordered the military government of General Sani Abacha to protect its operations. Government officials, who profited financially from the companies presence, complied readily by sending troops to Ogoni land. These police efforts were extraordinary harsh, however, involving the massacre of village and murder of innocent Ogoni. Shell oil with drew from the area in 1993, but the conflict persisted as the federal government maintained operation of the lucrative wells.
On May 21st 1994, Saro Wiwa was arrested along with 14 colleagues, allegedly for involvement in the murder of four progovement Ogoni chiefs. In 1995 the imprisoned Saro Wiwa won a Goldman Environmental Prize, a prestigious award given annually to one environmental activist on each continent, despite such publicity and lobbying efforts by numerous foreign parties, Saro Wiwa was hanged on November 10, 1995.
Shell Nigeria is one of the largest oil producers in the Royal Dutch/Shell Group. 80% of the oil extraction in Nigeria is the Niger Delta, the southeast region of the country. The Delta is home to many small minority ethnic groups, including the Ogoni, all of which suffer egregious exploitation by multinational oil companies, like Shell. Shell provides over 50% of the income keeping the Nigerian dictatorship in power.
Since the Nigerian government hanged nine environmental activists in 1995 for speaking out against exploitation by Royal Dutch/Shell and the Nigeria government, outrage has exploded worldwide. The tribunal, which convicted the men, was part of a joint effort by the government and Shell to suppress a growing movement among the Ogoni people: a movement for environmental justice, for recognition of their human rights and for economic justice. Shell has brought extreme, irreparable environmental devastation to Ogoni land.