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Finally mopping up

cb / sad (AFP, AP)May 4, 2015

Oil giant Shell has agreed to start the cleanup of the Nigerian fishing town of Bodo after the community was devastated by two oil spills in 2008. Some activists say the action is long overdue.

A boat lies on an oil-covered shore. (Photo: Mohammad Bello)
Image: DW/M. Bello

The worst oil spills in Nigeria's recent history destroyed thousands of hectares of mangroves in the Niger Delta and threatened the livelihood of thousands of local fishermen by killing off most of the fish and shellfish they depend on.

Shell officials met with representatives of the Bodo community, the United Nations, Amnesty International and local activists last week, promising to begin cleanup work in July or August this year. A foreign contractor who has already done similar work for BP will take on the job.

"The company involved in the clean up of the massive oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico is handling the job," Christian Kpandei told news agency Agence France-Press (AFP). Kpandei is one of the 15,600 local fishermen who were affected by the spill.

Unprecedented Settlement

Previously, Shell had already agreed to pay 55 million pounds (83.3 million dollars) to the town of Bodo. Roughly 35 million pounds were to go to the affected fishermen, with each individual receiving around 2,200 pounds, or the equivalent of three years' income on the Nigerian minimum wage. Another 20 million pounds were earmarked for the wider Bodo community.

The settlement was "thought to be one of the largest payouts to an entire community following environmental damage," Martyn Day, a lawyer for the claimants, said in London after the court decision in January 2015. It was reached after a three-year legal battle in the UK.

Large payout aside, some activists feel that Shell is stepping up to the plate too late: "The cleanup is long overdue," Godwing Ojo of the Nigerian Environmental Rights Action group told AFP. "It should have started in January."

Slow recovery process

Bodo community leader Chief Sylvester Kogbara told news agency Associated Press that the locals will probably use the money to set up small businesses until their environment is restored.

But Bodo residents will likely not be able to go back to fishing for quite some time: a United Nations report has said it could take 30 years for the mangrove swamps to recover.