Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Environmental Justice

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 22: Oil, Illness, and Human Rights > Environmental Justice


One of the only ways for people to protect their health in oil-rich areas is to make sure that whoever controls oil resources works in a way that protects people from the health risks and provides them with the benefits. Because oil is so valuable, they have a lot of wealth to work with.

Women protest oil exploitation
Women with signs reading "Stop the violence," "Save the Niger Delta," "Clean water now," and "Chevron-Texaco lied" protest outside a fenced building.

The Niger River Delta in Nigeria was once a fertile land with plenty of fish, wildlife, and healthy farms. When oil companies first came to this region, they promised economic benefits to all the people. But after more than 30 years of oil development, the companies have not kept their word. As one Nigerian woman explained, “We are angry. Since 1970 when the company came here, they have denied us every living thing. We have nothing to show except the pollution of our rivers and creeks, destruction of our forests and mangroves, and the terrible noise of the gas flaring. We have no hope, while they are making millions with our gifts from God. They do not care or hear our cries.”


Nigerian women began a campaign of peaceful protest involving people from every tribe in the region. The women demanded that Chevron-Texaco, one of the main oil companies working in the region, provide jobs, resources for education, water, electricity, and community development. And they demanded compensation for all of the damage the oil company had done.


Chevron-Texaco called for the government to respond with an iron fist. Police and the military fired tear gas and attacked the women, beating and torturing them. Many were injured and some were killed. But the women responded with determination and creativity. Some picketed the oil company headquarters, others occupied the main export terminal, and hundreds more took over 4 flow stations in the Niger River to stop the companies from shipping the oil. Chevron-Texaco lost over $100,000 each day the women occupied the terminal and flow stations!


The oil company officials finally gave in. Chevron-Texaco agreed to create jobs and to set up a microcredit program to help women start their own businesses. They also promised to provide schools, hospitals, and water and electricity for the villages.


The brutal actions of the oil companies and their government allies in Nigeria show they will stop at nothing to increase their profits. The women in Nigeria have inspired people around the world to demand a share of the benefits, not the suffering, from oil development. Otherwise, they will stop oil development altogether.



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