This morning’s Globe and Mail (June 8, 2010) included the following letter to the editors from a reader in Montreal. It helps put the BP catastrophe in context (no easy feat).
While the Gulf of Mexico blowout is an ecological disaster of staggering proportions, I am troubled by the inconsistency of media coverage, given what appears to be complete indifference to equally devastating catastrophes in the Niger Delta. Like the Mississippi, the Niger is a complex ecosystem on which millions depend for sustenance and livelihoods. It is also home to oil fields that supply 40 per cent of the crude imported by the United States. More oil is spilled into the Niger Delta each year than has been lost in the BP explosion.
The West seems to have little appetite for the stories of these rural poor, half of whom have no access to clean drinking water and whose life expectancy has fallen below 40 despite (or perhaps because of) the oil wealth beneath their feet. The estimated equivalent of 50 Exxon Valdez tankers have spilled into the Niger Delta since drilling began in earnest in the 1960s; Amnesty International recently drove home the point that this ecocide and the brutal suppression of dissent by supranational oil companies and local militias constitutes a grave violation of human rights. While I have nothing but sympathy for the suffering on the Gulf coast, I can’t help but be ashamed by our apathy when it comes to these other victims of our petro-lifestyles, whose plight fails to move us simply because they’re poor, African and not in our backyard.
Atul Sharma, Montreal