Is Crude Oil Killing Children in Nigeria?

Credit: BBC News.
Barinaadaa Saturday and Chief Bira Saturday's baby boy died 3 years ago.

 

When thunder crackles in the Niger Delta, like the sound of a short burst of fire, the pounding rain is never far behind it.

Caught in the downpour in the town of Kogbara Dere, known as K Dere, a woman runs to the shelter of a restaurant by the side of the road. The plastic bottles of homemade petrol she was selling are beaten off their wooden perch by the heavy rain.

The smell of petrol rises up from the ground and hangs briefly in the air before being washed down a mucky lane. Following the shiny oil slick, through a warren of small concrete houses, we arrive at the home of Love Sunday.

Village of Tears
Love gave birth to her fifth child just over a month ago. For 2 weeks, everything was fine.

"When I had the baby there was no problem," she said. "But then I was carrying him in my arms. He took three breaths and was gone.

"I'm still mourning. I weep every day."

Love doesn't know how her baby died because she didn't see a doctor. But she's not the only one in her village dealing with this grief.

Patience Sunday and her husband Batom, who live just on the other side of town, were also expecting their first child in October.

"When the baby was first born, he wasn't breathing, but then the nurse was taking care of him and he started to breathe," she said. "They took the baby to the house to bathe him, and the baby collapsed."

He only lived a few hours.

For Barinaadaa Saturday and Chief Bira Saturday, it's a similar story.

"I gave birth, and the child died at the same time," Barinaadaa said. She still has a picture of her child framed in her home. He's wearing a blue and pink woolly hat and looks like he could be sleeping.

It happened in 2014, but Barinaada and her husband haven't been able to have a child since. Their farm sits on the site of the last big spill in K Dere, which happened that same year.

"Our farming area is always deep with this oil, when you go there you can perceive the odor," said Chief Bira Saturday, who has suffered from asthma since the spill.

"The doctor said it was the odor of this oil that we are perceiving that damaged the baby in my womb," his wife added.

Patience Sunday heard something similar from doctors while she was pregnant.

"The doctor said I should not go out in the rain or use rain water because the rain water contains oil," she said.

Each of the parents we spoke to named one or two others who also lost young babies.

Hidden Killer?
A recent report by a group of scientists at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland may hold a clue to what happened.

It found that children born within 10 km of an oil spill were twice as likely to die in their first month.

Read the full story here.


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