Meanwhile, Nigeria has missed two self-imposed deadlines since the turn of the century to stop gas flaring, and after failing to meet a third deadline last year, shifted the goal post again, this time, indefinitely. As international gas companies like Eni and Shell reap millions of dollars off the resources in the region, women here say gas flaring is destroying their lives. Though Ebocha quite literally sits on oil money, the crude has been a curse.“I’ve always been aware of this heat, this gas flaring, ever since I was a child,” Alozie said. “As much as gas is helpful, the flaring has caused more harm than good in this area.”Early in the mornings, tireless women of the Niger Delta push wheelbarrows filled with farming tools. They balance baskets on their heads, wrappers tied over their chests as they set out to till the land. Their skin bears the marks of years of toiling under the baking sun. Here, it is women who feed families. In Ebocha, where women have traditionally farmed or fished as breadwinners, the flaring’s effects are visible and punishing. On a given day, women on bicycles ramble past a row of flare stacks that look like tall torches of golden flames licking angrily at the sky. Gas released during flaring mixes with water in the atmosphere and causes acid rain—dark sooty rainwater that people here say is corrosive, poking huge holes in zinc roofing sheets and killing crops. As more farmlands fall to oil spills and low yield, there is less profit to be made.
“A lot of things don’t survive here anymore.”
In Okwuzi, a community close to Ebocha and where Peace Bathuel, a middle-aged farmer and former spokesperson for a women’s collective in Ebocha, grew up, gas leaks have caused explosions and oil spills destroying women's farms. It’s difficult to get good crops from a parcel of land once touched by oil, Bathuel said. The Nkisa River, which flows beneath the bridge on one end of town and from where women once fetched water, now carries filmy, rainbow colors.
The Nkisa River, which flows beneath the bridge on one end of town and from where women once fetched water, now carries filmy, rainbow colors.
The rashes are common in the area, as are eye infections, chronic cough and pneumonia according to a local nurse at a government hospital who wished to remain anonymous due to fears of reprisal. “For pregnant women, it is even worse,” she said. In January, a severe “strange cough” made its way around Ebocha, residents say, sparking fears that both the gas flaring and the COVID-19 pandemic were taking their toll.Then there are the distressing number of stillbirths, reported anecdotally by both the nurse and local women. The Fuller Project and VICE World News could not independently confirm that gas flaring is causing stillbirths, due to lack of local research, but the effects of gas flaring have been found to lead to potentially negative outcomes for pregnant women. In Eagle Ford, Texas, women stand a 50% chance of having preterm births, according to researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles. Around the world, countries like Nigeria continue to flare gas despite the known risks and enormous toll it takes on communities and on the environment. Russia flares the most gas, followed by Iraq, Iran, the United States, Algeria and Venezuela, according to recent World Bank data. Nigeria is the seventh biggest gas-flaring country.
Angry red dots cover the insides of her arms, contrasting sharply with her fair skin.
Around the world, countries like Nigeria continue to flare gas despite the known risks and enormous toll it takes on communities and on the environment.
For a long time, women collectives in the community have been pushing for the Rivers state government and international oil companies like Agip to equip them with vocational skills as farming proves less profitable. But so far, they say, they’ve yet to see meaningful action.The Niger Delta is “the goose that lays the golden egg,” said one 54-year-old in Ebocha, a man who asked not to be named out of fear of reprisals. He blames the Nigerian government for profiting off of its own people’s misery. “If the goose dies, they don’t care as long as the golden eggs continue to come,” he said. “The money they are taking is blood money. They are not better than Judas.”Shola Lawal is a Lagos-based contributing reporter with The Fuller Project, a nonprofit newsroom reporting on global issues affecting women.
“The money they are taking is blood money. They are not better than Judas.”