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Birth defects surge in South Sudan

South Sudan

There’s an increase of birth defects in South Sudan. An investigation of oil fields by the Associated Press in the Upper Nile and Unity States found rampant pollution, birth defects and unexplained illnesses

Like most children born in the region, Ping Mayak Geer suffers from birth defects. He was born with six fingers on each hand, a stunted leg, a deformed foot and a swollen kidney.

“All this is happening to us because of the oil pollution”, his father, Cornelius Mayak Geer told AP.

All this is happening to us because of the oil pollution.

The baby was flown to Kenya for testing by the Greater Pioneer Operating Company, one of the oil companies working there.

Neighboring communities, legislators and local authorities accuse the government of South Sudan and the two main oil consortia, led by Chinese Dar Petroleum Operating Company and the Greater Pioneer Operating Company, of negligence and attempts to silence those who have tried to expose the problem.

Rick Steiner is an oil pollution consultant.

“So these companies have this model for doing oil and gas development in these developing Third World nations, and that is to go in, buy the government or otherwise ally themselves with the government, get no regulations on them, very favorable tax and royalty regimes, and do whatever they want to make as much profit as they want quickly, and then leave. And that’s kind of the model that they’re imposing on South Sudan. And it’s really a tragedy for the people there and for the environment”, Steiner said.

Birth defects around oil fields in Unity State almost tripled between 2015 and 2017, according to an environmental report by a local advocacy group seen by AP. It has not yet been published because the research is ongoing.

Neither Dar nor Greater Pioneer responded to the AP’s requests for comment. Oil Minister Awow Daniel Chuang calls links between the contamination and birth defects “premature speculations.”

Geer says he has yet to see his son’s medical tests for himself. But he says things like this weren’t happening before the oil companies.

“Because even the cattle, the animals like goats and cows have also been born like this in our towns in Ruweng State are all affected like my boy,” he says.

The World Health Organization and others say exposure to oil and drilling-related chemicals can be harmful to unborn children.


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