A female community leader in Ogoni, Rivers State, Blessing Johnson, has called for implementation of the livelihood aspect of the United Nations Environmental Program(UNEP) report on Ogoni environment to stem spread of diseases during the cleanup exercise.
Johnson made the call during a capacity building workshop on Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) and Environmental, Social Health Human Rights and Gender impact by the Human Rights and Development”(CEHRD) in Port Harcourt, the state capital.
CEHRD, a Civil Society Group(CSO) in Port Harcourt, organised the event to educate indigenes of oil impacted communities of Ogoniland, especially the women, on how to conduct themselves before the cleanup contractors in order not to increase disease burden in the communities and the state at large.
The former councilor appealed to the federal and state governments to implement the aspect of the document to enable the women to be economically empowered and save them from poverty and hunger- driven temptations to stem the spread of sexually transmitted diseases during the cleanup.
Johnson said: “Oil spill has destroyed our farmlands, and rivers. Before the problem with our environment, our women eke their living from farming and fishing. But not again since oil spoilt everything women were rendered helpless and dependent on the male folks for their needs.
“If a woman is financially empowered, she will not fall easy prey to men and the contractors that will come to the communities, that is why I am calling on the levels of government to rise up and save our women, families and society by empowering them with skill or seed money to fend for themselves.”
Head environments and conservation CEHRD, Dr. Sam Kabari said the need for building the capacity of the people on EIA was to enable them make meaningful inputs into the report anytime investors, contractors visit their communities for the purpose.
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And for their health Kabari said it was meant to expose them to the danger of disease burden the close interactions of the contractors and the locals, especially the female locals will possibly spread if appropriate caution was not taken by the community members.
He said: “We are holding capacity building workshop for community people and Environment based Civil Society Organizationa(CSOs), on Environmental, Social Health Human Rights and Gender impact Assessment.
“This is because most of the times Environmental Impact Assessments are conducted in communities, community members’ inputs are not always included in the reports, because they did not actually make their contributions, because they did not have the capacity.
“The essence of the workshop is to help build capacity of this set of people especially those that are in the governing councils or community development committees(CDCs), because they are the ones that do the EIA with oil companies whenever they come to the communities to carry out any environmental assessment.
“We are doing this to train them, impact the right understanding of what the EIA means, why it is necessary , what imputes is expected of the community members and what line of questions they will need to ask their visitor.
“We are building their capacity so that they will have sufficient knowledge to be able to project some of the impacts in terms of social, environment, health, human rights and vanerable groups that will suffer from some of the impacts of oil companies operating in different cmunities where they come from.”
Explaining further he said: “Hydro-Carbon Pollution, Remediation Project(HYPREP) is a typical example, the cleanup they are going to do in Ogoni communities is a good thing but they are also going to have some negative impacts, reason being that the contractors that are going to come to these communities are definitely going to interact with the locals and members of the communities, there is a high propensity that this will increase disease burden in the communities, especially HIV/ AIDS and Sexually transmitted dieases.
“So the training is meant to sensitize the community leaders about this and then educate them on how they should conduct themselves when these contractors come to their communities and also train them on the line of questions they should ask when they are asked to participate in environmental impact assessment activities in their various communities.
“Obviously, most of them do not know the type of impact they will suffer when companies are sited in their localities, so the training is meant to expose them to the type of impact, damage they will suffer in their areas if such companies are located in their communities.” he noted.
Over 60 participants from the four Ogoni Local government areas of the state- Khana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme, including chiefs and community Development Committee leaders as well as persons from other CSOs were trained in the train- the -trainers workshop.