A man in Nwoya district is struggling to make ends meet following the rejection of his farm harvest. In 2009, Douglas Olwoch, a resident of Pabit village in Purongo sub-county allowed Heritage Oil and Gas Company to dispose mud cuttings from its oil exploration activities in Murchison falls national park on his farmland measuring about 50 square meters.
In return, Heritage Oil and Gas Company paid Olwoch 750, 000 shillings as compensation. However, Heritage Oil and Gas company left in 2012 without clearing the waste, which raised health concerns amongst the locals. As a result, residents have shunned Olwoch's farm produce since then, fearing it could be harmful to their health. Olwoch, whose livelihood depended on farming is now struggling to make ends meet because of the rejection of his crops.
Olwoch says no matter how much he succeeds in garden work, his his products are not bought adding that, he rented another piece of land uphill, but all the same his crops were rejected. He says that he has lost his agricultural products amounting to millions of shillings. Just last year, Olwoch planted 1 acre of Cassava but it went to waste and residents refused to buy it saying it was contaminated. Olwoch expects to harvest up to 10 acres of rice this season but doesn't hope to sell it in Purongo or Nwoya district because of the negative attitude amongst residents.
According to Olwoch, he can only sell his harvest outside the district or to strangers. He says two of his wives and nine children abandoned him when they became frustrated of being referred to as oil waste.
//Cue in: â€œSince they pouredâ€¦â€¦
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Olwoch says he hired his land to the oil company because he expected the company to take it within six months in vain. Gilbert Olanya, the Kilak county MP teamed up with some residents and dragged Total to court, which bought off the interests of Heritage from Tullow. According to Olanya, because of the failure by the oil company to clean up the waste plants grow yellow in color instead of green.
He says the residents of Purongo have rejected Olwoch's harvest, which has made his life impossible. The MP says Olwoch should be compensated adequately and waste be removed immediately.
//Cue in: â€œright now theâ€¦â€¦ Cue out:â€¦â€¦â€¦..right now its four yearsâ€//
Patrick Okello Oryema, the Nwoya LC V chairperson says most of the oil exploration that operated in the district dodged the responsibility of removing the waste. Oryema is worried about the safety of children since the oil waste is toxic as it contains chemicals.
Jackson Lakor, the Gulu district agricultural officer says the waste could contain heavy metals that could affect humans in the long run. He says radioactive material could be the worst case if it is confirmed in the area. On the yellowing of the plants, Lakor says the oil waste could have affected the oxygen underground and therefore affected the growth.
The Government report on the waste from the Petroleum production and exploration department and NEMA of 2013 revealed that the waste was very dangerous and could cause long time effects on humans and must be removed in less than six months. However, to date there has not been any response from Total.
Studies conducted on effects of oil waste on humans worldwide indicated skin problems (dermatosis), some studies have also suggested a higher risk of adverse effects such as skin mycosis, tiredness,itchy nose, sore throat, headache, red eyes, ear , diarrhea and gastritis among people living near oil fields.
Also an excess of cancers was observed amongmales in a village located in an oil producing area in the region. Olwoch's blood was reportedly taken to south Africa for examination and the results indicated that Lead, Arscenic and the copper in Olwoch's blood was high which is a sign of possible alternation of DNA according to Olanya.
Ahlem Friga-Noy, the Total E&P oil company's cooperate affairs officer, says the government commissioned a study of the site, and the multi agency report showed that the waste was inert, and there has been no contamination whatsoever of neighboring land and water sources.
She added that no immediate health risks were identified and the potential for negative long term effects was solely dependent on the occurrence of a series of contingencies. Ahlem however says Total has initiated steps to implement the recommendations made in the Government report adding that, arrangements have already been made to excavate the site and to replace the soil. This will be done in the coming weeks subject to grant of access by the land owner according to Ahlem.
She adds that , the land owner has filed a law suit at the High Court in Gulu adding that, given the fact that, the matter is before court, they cannot comment publicly on the substance of the lawsuit. The first hearing case of oil dumping was heard last month at the Gulu court but it has been pushed to 6thOctober.