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Oil contamination in Thar Jath, South Sudan

Oil's contamination of health and habitat in South Sudan This briefing takes a look at one of the world's great environmental time bombs - Big Oil's heedless and unscrupulous spewing of toxic wastes into the country's groundwater.


Oil was discovered in what would become South Sudan in 1979. Production commenced in 1993. From the very outset there were concerns about the oil companies’ adherence to the environmental standards imposed on the disposal of the processed water ensuing from their pumping operations. Indigenous people consuming water taken from wells located in the catchment areas of the oil rigs began arriving at local clinics. The peoples’ health complaints ranged from nausea and skin problems to neurological disorders. The villagers also reported that the water in their wells had become salty, that it stank, and that their livestock and plants were ailing, even dying after having consumed it. In the early 2000s, local residents resisted their forced expulsion from their lands by oil companies and their governmental allies. South Sudan was recently ranked as the most dangerous country in the world for humanitarian workers - due to the world's highest rate of fatalities and other grave incidents. This comes with the assassination of a number of journalists who were striving to report on the links between Big Oil and the South Sudanese government.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Oil contamination in Thar Jath, South Sudan
State or province:South Sudan
Location of conflict:Koch County, Unity State
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The facts on oil's contamination of one oil field - Thar Jath - of ten in South Sudan are contained in the abstract summarized below. To obtain an overview of the country-wide situation, satellites-generated images are now being analyzed.

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Type of populationRural
Affected Population:At least 180,000 - possibly many more
Start of the conflict:01/01/1996
Company names or state enterprises:PETRONAS from Malaysia
China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC ) from China
Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Videsh
Relevant government actors:Government of South Sudan Ministry of the Environment
Government of South Sudan Ministry of Petroleum and Mining
Governments of China, Malaysia and India (owners of oil companies that have polluted groundwater in South Sudan)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Hoffnungszeichen Sign of Hope e.V.
Local Committees
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageLATENT (no visible resistance)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Landless peasants
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Shareholder/financial activism.
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Other environmental related diseases, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Violent targeting of activists
Withdrawal of company/investment
Proposal and development of alternatives:SIgn of Hope has called upon the government of South Sudan to vigorously apply environmental regulations, and has lobbied oil companies for them to cease and desist their violations of human and environmental rights, to remediate the environment, to drill deep wells, and to treat local residents for the effects of the damaging of their health - to no avail.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:No effective response by government, no change in environment-damaging practices by oil companies, no remediation of environment, no compensation to victims of oil contamination for loss of health and habitation
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

"Oil, Power and a Sign of Hope" - on South Sudan's struggle to curtail oil contamination and for clean water
[click to view]

Hardhitting report in Al Jazeera on oil comtamination's damaging of life and livelihood in South Sudan
[click to view] - platform for independent reporting on South Sudan by and on its people
[click to view]

Article on oil contamination in South Sudan and on Sign of Hope's struggle for human and environmental rights there
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

forsouthsudan - the platform of and for the people of South Sudan
[click to view]

Description of Sign of Hope's humanitarian work in South Sudan
[click to view]

Other documents

[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Terry Swartzberg E-mail: [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:3287
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