Residents of Maluth County in South Sudanese oil-rich Upper Nile State have called off a week’s protests after the Ministry of Petroleum and an oil consortium agreed to their demands, according to local media.
Demonstrations began last week against environmental pollution caused by the oil companies. The protesters blocked the doors of at least two oil companies and shut down roads and the airstrip in Palouch.
Oil fields in Palouch and Melut are run by the Dar Petroleum Operating Company (DPOC), a consortium of companies led by China’s National Petroleum Corporation, Malaysia’s Petronas, South Sudan’s Nilepet, Sinopec and Tri-Ocean Energy.
The Protesters reportedly locked the company’s employees in their compound for several days according to an engineer Peter Abuluk who worked at the facility.
“The guys are well organized; they are burning tires at the main gate of the operation base camp,” Abuluk said. “They locked it, and no one is going out.”
South Sudanese Petroleum Undersecretary Awow Daniel said in a statement Saturday that the company and protesting communities agreed on modalities to meet the demands of host communities.
Community members were also quoted by local Eye Radio as saying“we signed a memorandum of understanding and we have been assured that this is the real guarantee and we have relaxed the demonstration as all the projects will be implemented after we signed this agreement,”
“If the government does not implement these demands we will not get out of the operating area because these demands are not for discussion and argument. These are real projects and our citizens are supposed to benefit from these basic services,” said Thon Beny Thon, a member of Greater Maluth Civil Society Organizations that led the protests.
An Associated Press report in February quoted four environmental reports that said South Sudan’s oil industry left hundreds of open waste pits with the water and soil contaminated with toxic chemicals and heavy metals including arsenic, mercury, and manganese.
The reports also contain accounts of “alarming” birth defects, miscarriages other health problems among residents in the Palouch area.
The concerns, which date as far back as 2013, were presented to the oil companies and South Sudan’s ministry of petroleum but subsequently buried, according to four people with close knowledge of the oil operations and the documents.
“South Sudan is running one of the dirtiest and poorest managed oil operations on the planet,” said Egbert Wesselink, the former head of a European coalition of more than 50 non-profit organizations focused on the impacts of the country’s oil sector.