The people of Omoviri community in Rumuekpe, Emuoha Local Government in Rivers State have been suffering from pollution from substances suspected to be crude oil oozing from the soil. The pollutant has contaminated surface and underground water sources and polluted the soil, disrupting fishing and farming activities which are the main sources of livelihood of the community. This pollution has also given rise to health hazard as the major source of drinking water has been the contaminated river which flows from the Sombreiro into the Orashi watercourse.
Social Action has made several visits to the community since the incident occurred in 2019. In one of the visits, Social Action’s team led by Prince Ekpere had promised to communicate the plight of the community to the relevant state and federal agencies to provide emergency solutions and remediation. Consequent to the promise, letters were written to the Rivers State Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Energy & Natural Resources. Others were Nigeria Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and the Chairman Emohua Local Government Area
The meeting hosted by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Water Resources, have in attendance representatives of Omoviri commnity and Social Action team
Floating Crude oil on the surface of the Sombreiro River at Omoviri has polluted their main source of drinking water
After several weeks of expectation and a second reminder to the MDAs, the Ministry of Water Resources responded to the letters with an invitation to discuss the matter. The invitation which came through the Permanent Secretary in the ministry was the only response received from all the letters written to the MDAs as at the time of this report.
The meeting which took place at the Point Block, Rivers State Secretariat, Port Harcourt and hosted by the Permanent Secretary Mr Kalio M. E. had in attendance representatives from Omoviri community, Social Action team and the Director of Planning and Research, Engr. S. N. Opurum.
Speaking on behalf of the community delegation, Chief Dr. Anwuri Okwere expounded on the genesis of the oil upsurge from the bottom of the river which they first noticed sometime in mid 2019. He explained that there are no oil pipelines passing through Omoviri, though Shell Petroleum Development Company has facilities in other communities in Rumuekpe. He lamented the effect of the pollution on farming, fishing and other aquatic allied activities which have been the major economic mainstay of the communities.
In his words “Our women and youth cannot fish nor fetch sand from the river, our farmland and crops are affected and we cannot get clean drinking water for use. Our most pressing need now is a source of drinking water, and so if for nothing else, please give us water, as you correctly pointed out, our source of water has been polluted.” He lamented the lack of response from the governments despite the several letters written by the community to the agencies including the State Ministry of Environment and National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESRA).
In his response the Permanent Secretary expressed his surprise at the leakage of the crude oil in the community given that there are no oil pipelines passing through nor drilling activities going on in Omoviri. He regretted that the issue at hand is not directly under his ministry since it has to do with oil spill but promised to do all within his power to collaborate with the relevant Ministry Department and Agencies (MDAs) in information sharing as to unravel the source of the leakage. He further advised Social Action on behalf of the community to write to the Ministry of Special Duties to visit the community for assessment and investigation. On his part, he promised to include the provision of alternative water supply for the community in the 2022 budgetary provision.
Speaking on behalf of Social Action team, Prince Ekpere urged the Permanent Secretary not to wait till the time of the next budget, which is about six months away, to make provision for alternative source of water because the situation in Omoviri is that of an emergency and needs an immediate action to forestall a breakout of diseases.
Mr Kalio promised to intimate Social Action on subsequent developments on remedial measure and promised to keep his doors open for further engagements