Archive for: March 2015

South Sudan’s leaking oil wells pose health risk

From different sources, MAR/04/2015, SSN; THAR JATH – Thick black puddles and a looted, leaking ruin are all that remain of the Thar Jath oil treatment facility, once a crucial part of South Sudan’s mainstay industry.

Lying deep in the bush and swamps of Unity State, far north of the capital Juba, Thar Jath was once a collecting and processing point for crude oil pumped out of nearby wells and on to the Red Sea coast of Sudan for export to oil-thirsty Asian economies.

Like many other oil wells and facilities across the north of the world’s youngest country, it has been ransacked since the outbreak of civil war in December 2013.

Pro-government troops, rebel fighters and ethnic militia are fighting hard for their share of power and the country’s oil wealth.

A researcher retreiving a dead insect from an oil slick at the oil treatment facility at Thar Jath in Unity State
During nearly 15-months of war between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, South Sudan’s oil exports have tumbled by roughly a third to a half. The impact of the conflict has been worsened by falling global oil prices dealing a near-mortal blow to the economy of one of the world’s poorest countries.

And with workers having fled many facilities, oil now also represents a severe environmental hazard.

“The situation is very worrying,” said Klaus Stieglitz of Sign of Hope, a German aid group which operates in both rebel and government-controlled parts of the country.

“The next rainy season can allow what is up-to-now contained oil to spill over. The oil is seeping into the water table.”

Standing at Thar Jath, Stieglitz pointed to a football field-sized pit near the plant: “It’s a large amount of oil in a hole that is not isolated from the ground. It adds, in a dramatic way, to the contamination of drinking water that was already here.”

Samples taken by Sign of Hope between 2009 and 2013 — even before the war broke out — revealed the contamination of groundwater by oil activities in the area. The aid group said it is now investigating reports of birth defects and other serious illnesses.

Steel barrels used to store crude oil lying abandoned at an oil treatment facility
Scorched earth tactics

The Thar Jath oil treatment facility, which handled oil from surrounding wells operated by the consortium SPOC (Sudd Petroleum Operating Company), led by the Malaysian giant Petronas, was abandoned days after the war broke out.

Inside, the offices are smashed up and strewn with documents, the control centre is ransacked, while outside the pipes have been battered. Barrels of chemicals leak into the dirt, and a strong smell of oil cloys the air.

It is unclear who destroyed the plant. Thar Jath is currently under the control of Machar’s rebels but in the to-and-fro of both sides have been accused of scorched earth tactics before ceding territory to rival fighters.

“We are very worried about this issue of oil,” said George Gatloy Kong, an opposition leader in charge of liaison with NGOs in Unity State, speaking of Thar Jath.

A general view of the abandoned oil treatment facility
Local authorities also say the uncontrolled growth of thick, dry vegetation in and around the plant could spark a dangerous inferno: “This now dry grass can set the facility on fire,” said Majil Thay Woor, a deputy county commissioner.

At Rier, one of the worst-affected villages, tests of the local water well have shown high levels of unpalatable salt and poisonous lead.

“This water is too salty… the taste is too bad,” said Agar Jok, 35, a mother of eight. She said people who drink from the well end up vomiting or contracting diarrhoea, especially the children.

For drinking water, Agar Jok now walks for two hours, twice a day, to fetch water from a small tributary of the White Nile. She carries the water on her head, 20 litres in the morning and 20 litres in the evening.


UN Security Council OKs sanctions for South Sudan

New York – (NEWS 24), MAR/04/2015, SSN; The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Tuesday creating a system to impose sanctions on those blocking peace in South Sudan, hoping it will press rival leaders into ending a conflict that has killed tens of thousands in the world’s newest country.

The Secretary-General takes note of the unanimous passage of Resolution 2206 (2015) by the Security Council this morning, establishing a sanctions regime on South Sudan. He reminds both parties that the best way to avoid the enactment of actual sanctions by the Security Council, is to strictly adhere to the Cessation of Hostilities agreement of 23 January 2014, fully comply with International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, extend their full cooperation to United Nations and humanitarian personnel in the discharge of their mandates and duties, and conclude a Comprehensive Peace Agreement that places South Sudan back on the path to stability and prosperity.

The resolution drafted by the United States says an arms embargo is possible if the warring sides can’t stick to a peace deal. Talks between the government and rebels continue this week in Ethiopia, with a Thursday deadline to reach a decisive peace agreement.

“Those who frustrate peace must begin to pay the price,” US Ambassador Samantha Power said.

The resolution doesn’t explicitly name South Sudan President Salva Kiir or rebel leader Riek Machar as possible targets for sanctions that would include an asset freeze and travel ban, but it says people affected could include “leaders of any entity”.

Peace talks

Multiple cease-fires in South Sudan have failed during more than a year of fighting that has had ethnic overtones. Two million people have been displaced.

South Sudan’s rebels on Tuesday warned that the latest peace talks could fail if the government does not make concessions, especially on the issue of how to share power in a possible unity government. Kiir arrived in Ethiopia early Tuesday to attend direct talks with Machar.

The resolution comes after months of threats by the US and others to impose sanctions over the conflict, though some countries had wanted more support for the idea from regional actors such as the African Union. As time passed, international calls for action grew.

The UN director for Human Rights Watch, Philippe Bolopion, welcomed Tuesday’s approval after months of hesitation but said, “The elephant in the room is the long overdue arms embargo, sadly absent from this resolution”.

Monitoring groups have described South Sudan as being awash in weapons after its long fight to split from Sudan ended in its independence in 2011.

Power sharing agreement

South Sudan’s UN ambassador, Francis Deng, quickly warned the council that sanctions would be counterproductive, especially as the country’s people suffer. “What the president and the government of South Sudan need is encouragement and support, not condemnation,” he said.

Deng said he hoped the council will not actually impose sanctions.

Russia’s support was grudging at best. Deputy Permanent Representative Petr Iliichev said the decision to impose sanctions was hasty and that any negative effects of Tuesday’s action should be blamed on those who pushed the resolution in spite of Russia’s warnings.

“Pushing the protagonists into a corner will not change anything” and will further complicate the peace process, he said.

China’s ambassador spoke out on Friday against the resolution, saying he saw no logic in it, but Liu Jieyi on Tuesday simply expressed his hope that the warring sides would quickly reach a compromise. China’s interest is focused on South Sudan’s oil production.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement on Tuesday night urged Kiir and Machar to show leadership and “make the necessary compromises” for a power-sharing agreement that would help end the conflict.

– AP

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