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Chevron, Climate Change Decimate Nigerian Communities
As sea surges overwhelm Nigerian towns and villages, many are displaced, mirroring what will happen in future to places confronted by climate change and oil exploration
For many U.S. officials, sea incursion and other aspects of climate change are normal.
Nigerian government officials share the same opinion – sea incursion caused by climate change should be tolerated.
For Gloria Osuntokun, a 25-year-old trader and mother of two, the Atlantic Ocean incursion into Ayetoro in Nigeria is not normal. The rural, oil-rich town in Ondo State, an important town in the Ilaje area where Gloria grew up, is being submerged under the sea. The genesis of the situation, which has led to the destruction of over 2,000 houses and fishing businesses, is due to the vagaries of nature. Communities go under ocean through climate change, the controversial phenomenon fueled by carbon emission.
The nearby Atlantic Ocean erupts with rage, spewing water that submerges houses and trees, worsening the endemic problem of oil pollution by companies such as Chevron, Exxon, and others. It was at first seen as a controllable situation – if an embankment could be built, it would ward off the surging seas. But today, there is no embankment, there is no protection.
In Ayetoro, climate change is wreaking havoc on women in the town, pushing them into financial challenges and tribulations. Women in Ayetoro, who were hardworking and industrious, say climate change is destroying their lives, making it difficult for them to work and bring up their children. Gloria is one of the many who live in Ayetoro, whose population has shrunken to two thousand from 26,000 over the sea surges. A hundred meters from her home is the cause of the troubles, the Atlantic Ocean. Previously, it was a kilometer or more away, but the ocean has encroached into the town.
“There used to be a football field in the area occupied by the ocean,” says Gloria, standing at the waterfront of the town. “There used to be houses, schools, trees. There used to be a beach.” Gloria thinks that along with oil exploration, climate change must be responsible for the advance of the ocean.
For a long time, Nigeria has made promises to tackle climate change, but in the town of Ayetoro, which faces Chevron’s platform, climate change persists. Meanwhile, Nigeria is incapacitated, as the country produces less than 1 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, and yet has been forced to bear the brunt of the world climate change crisis. As international oil companies such as Chevron quite literally increase the pace of climate change in this part of the world, the phenomenon is regarded as a curse.
“I’ve always been aware of the sea’s incursion since I was a child,” Gloria says. “It has always caused harm to Ayetoro.”
During yet another sea incursion recently, hapless women of Ayetoro poured water from their homes. They carried buckets, wrappers tied over their chest, as they struggled to recover their abodes. Their faces bore the pains of years of suffering over the sea incursion. Previously, they had fish businesses. They were farmers, but climate change has been brutal and relentless – they lost everything. Women marched on rows of narrow plank bridges that look fragile and shaky. Water released during a sea incursion settled under the bridges, and within time, it becomes the breeding ground of frogs and mosquitoes. Since their farmlands have fallen prey to the sea incursion, there is no place to farm and no profit to be made.
In Awoye, a few kilometers from Ayetoro, Betty Aina, a young farmer and fisherwoman, frowns. Sea incursions have made many people to flee. It’s difficult to succeed once affected by sea incursion, Betty says. The river, which flows parallel to the ocean and the source of fresh water, has been polluted through a contact with ocean water.
The incursion sinks women into poverty, according to Balais Osman-Elasha, an investigator with Climate Unit in Sudan. Several villages have been swept away by the ocean, and Awoye is about to be counted among them.
To make matters worse, there are no farms to grow food.
“In the mangrove swamp forest areas,” says Angela Kesiena Etuonovbe, a researcher familiar with the area, “diurnal tidal movements result in flood, exacerbated by the rising sea level. In Awoye, environmental degradation include the loss of fresh water source, while oil companies operating in the area open up numerous channels from the sea towards the coast to install their equipment.”
Unfortunately, salt water from the ocean, along with the remnants from oil spills, pour into farmlands, polluting them. “It destroys crops and the environment,” says Segun Omole in Awoye. However, according to Osman Elasha, the impact of climate change on gender is not the same. Women are increasingly seen as more vulnerable, mainly because they represent the majority of the world’s poor and are proportionately more dependent and threatened in relation to natural resources. “The difference between men and women can be seen in their differential roles, responsibilities, decision making, access to land and natural resources,” Elasha says.
The Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, rejects blame for the environmental damage to places like Awoye and Ayetoro over effects of climate change. “Parties to the Paris Agreement are expected to transition from fossil fuel to clean energy and reach a Net Zero ambition for greenhouse emissions,” he said at the CO26 Climate Change Summit in Glasgow. “We agree that Net Zero ambition can lead to economic transformation across all sectors. However, in Nigeria, it will take us a longer time to get to Net Zero.”
But with the depleting population of farmers in affected areas and the rising cost of goods and services, fears abound over security concerns. For instance, women’s unemployment remains high, and this could mean trouble in the short and long run.
Meanwhile, inflation rates in Nigeria increases as the nation faces vicissitudes from climate change. Many women, unable to cope with the situation, simply resign themselves to fate. When the sea surges, bringing in oil spills from companies, it creates additional problems.
“We can no longer breathe fresh air because of the pollution,” says Gloria. “Instead, we inhale poison that the crude oil emits. The Ilaje River, the only source of water for drinking, cooking, washing, and bathing, is affected by the spills through the mixture of salt and fresh water. It is no longer possible for us to use it the way we have been using it for generations.”
It’s not possible because the women who drink it might start vomiting and coming down with various internal and external illnesses. Children suffer more because they drink the water out of ignorance,” says Gloria.
As climate change -induced sea surges bring oil spills in Awoye, Ayetoro, and surrounding communities, so do women fishmongers complain that all the fish that were formerly in the water have moved to cleaner waters. Women used to catch prawns, but the prawns have become endangered because their color has become brown and not white. “Tell me,” says Gloria. “Who will buy brown-colored prawns?”
However, the issue goes further than the effects of climate change on fishing and farming. In recent times, militant gangs have arisen over dislocations caused by the combination of climate change and oil explorations. When the youths engage each other in battles, women have to find a place to hide, or they would end up as victims.
Women face numerous other difficulties in Awoye, Ayetoro, and surrounding communities. They have a limited access to the control of goods and services. During sea surges, they tend to strive more to protect household livelihood. Culture and their responsibilities to their children stop them from looking for refuge in other towns not subjected to their challenges. They experience gender inequalities as related to human rights.
“Women have to be included in all decision-making about climate change,” says Betty. “If they’re not included, how can the authorities know their challenges?”
The future looks bleak, but when you see the smiles on Gloria’s face, you won’t believe the future is bleak.