The Niger Delta: some perspective on the BP oil spill

There is a shocking disparity in the media and political response to oil disasters in different part

The response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has, understandably for such a catastrophe, been huge -- from international condemnation of BP, to a narrowly avoided diplomatic row between Britain and the United States.

No one denies that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a disaster that is having a hugely damaging effect on ecosystems in the affected areas, as well as on the fishing and tourism industries. But how about a little sense of proportion?

Receiving somewhat less attention in the international press is the environmental outrage that has been inflicted on the Niger Delta over the past 50 years.

To give a recent example, on 1 May 2010, a ruptured ExxonMobil pipeline spilled more than a million gallons into the delta over seven days before the leak was stopped. There was not so much reporting about that.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Though exact figures are hard to come by, because oil companies and the Nigerian government are secretive about oil spills, a 2006 report by WWF UK, the World Conservation Union, and Nigerian representatives found that up to 1.5 million tonnes of oil had been spilled in the area over the preceding 50 years. This is 50 times the amount spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska.

A 2009 report by Amnesty calculated that at least nine million barrels of oil had been spilled. These figures suggest that every year, an amount equivalent to that lost in the Gulf of Mexico is spilled in the delta.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation says that an average of 300 individual spills each year equals nearly 2,300 cubic metres. This does not take into account "minor" spills, and the World Bank suggests that the real quantity is as much as ten times higher.

The delta is now one of the most polluted spots in the world. It is estimated that leaking crude oil -- which the oil companies blame on thieves and separatists, and campaigners blame on rusting equipment -- costs Nigeria $10m (£5.3m) daily.

The Niger Delta provides 40 per cent of all the crude oil imported by the United States. Over two generations, life expectancy in the region's rural communities -- where many people cannot get access to clean water -- has fallen to just over 40 years.

Barack Obama is right to recognise the scale of the disaster in the gulf (which, he said today, echoes the 11 September 2001 attacks), but it is rather sobering to note this disparity. Yet again, there seems to be one rule for the west, and another for the rest of the world.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Will Jeremy Corbyn stand down if Labour loses the general election?

Defeat at the polls might not be the end of Corbyn’s leadership.

The latest polls suggest that Labour is headed for heavy defeat in the June general election. Usually a general election loss would be the trigger for a leader to quit: Michael Foot, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband all stood down after their first defeat, although Neil Kinnock saw out two losses before resigning in 1992.

It’s possible, if unlikely, that Corbyn could become prime minister. If that prospect doesn’t materialise, however, the question is: will Corbyn follow the majority of his predecessors and resign, or will he hang on in office?

Will Corbyn stand down? The rules

There is no formal process for the parliamentary Labour party to oust its leader, as it discovered in the 2016 leadership challenge. Even after a majority of his MPs had voted no confidence in him, Corbyn stayed on, ultimately winning his second leadership contest after it was decided that the current leader should be automatically included on the ballot.

This year’s conference will vote on to reform the leadership selection process that would make it easier for a left-wing candidate to get on the ballot (nicknamed the “McDonnell amendment” by centrists): Corbyn could be waiting for this motion to pass before he resigns.

Will Corbyn stand down? The membership

Corbyn’s support in the membership is still strong. Without an equally compelling candidate to put before the party, Corbyn’s opponents in the PLP are unlikely to initiate another leadership battle they’re likely to lose.

That said, a general election loss could change that. Polling from March suggests that half of Labour members wanted Corbyn to stand down either immediately or before the general election.

Will Corbyn stand down? The rumours

Sources close to Corbyn have said that he might not stand down, even if he leads Labour to a crushing defeat this June. They mention Kinnock’s survival after the 1987 general election as a precedent (although at the 1987 election, Labour did gain seats).

Will Corbyn stand down? The verdict

Given his struggles to manage his own MPs and the example of other leaders, it would be remarkable if Corbyn did not stand down should Labour lose the general election. However, staying on after a vote of no-confidence in 2016 was also remarkable, and the mooted changes to the leadership election process give him a reason to hold on until September in order to secure a left-wing succession.

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