How Oil Spills Increase Infant Deaths in Niger Delta
By Chukwuma Muanya
New research from the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, has demonstrated for the first time how oil spills are increasing mortality rates among newborns in the Niger Delta of the country.
The new study by Prof. Roland Hodler and Research Assistant, Anna Breuderle, from the School of Economics and Political Science at the University of St. Gallen, found that of the 16,000 infants killed within the first month of their life in 2012, 70 per cent – that is around 11,000 infants – would have survived their first year in the absence of oil spills.
The study titled “The Effect of Oil Spills on Infant Mortality: Evidence from Nigeria” was published September 14, 2017, in Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute (CESifo) Working Paper Series No. 6653 and available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com.
According to the study, the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency recorded more than 6,600 oil spills from 2005 to 2015. Nearby oil spills increase neonatal mortality rate by 38 per cent per 1,000 live births.
Neonatal relates to the newborn and especially the human infant during the first month after birth. The researchers said shockingly, this corresponds to an increase by 100 per cent on the sample mean and these oil spills are the cause of an alarming human tragedy and the research calls for more attention to the issue from both the research community and the international public.
Earlier studies have associated oil spills in Nigeria to rise in cancer cases and low sperm count especially among local communities in the oil-rich Niger Delta region.
The researchers noted: “In a recent study, we provide first-time evidence on the effects of onshore oil spills on neonatal and infant mortality as well as child health. The study combines two geo-coded data sets: First, the Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor provides information on date and location of oil spills registered by the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency. Second, the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) 2013 provides the complete birth histories and information on the survival of children for 23,364 Nigerian mothers, along with geo-codes of their place of residence. It also provides height and weight measurements for children under five years of age.
“Our study analyses mortality within different phases over the first year of life. We thereby focus on children born to mothers whose reported place of residence is within 10 km from an oil spill, which has occurred between 2005 and 2014. For identification of causal effects, the study compares siblings conceived before and after nearby oil spills.”
The study found that oil spills, which occurred within 10 km prior to a child’s conception, strongly increase the risk of mortality during the first month of life. “Specifically, nearby oil spills increase the neonatal mortality rate by 38 deaths per 1,000 live births, which corresponds to an increase by 100 per cent on the sample mean. The effect of oil spills on infant mortality is also relatively large, but not statistically significant. The effect on neonatal mortality is higher for oil spills that occurred in closer proximity, and it is highly persistent over time: nearby oil spills which occurred up to five years in the past still affect the survival chances of children born today,” the researchers noted.
Also, they said that the effect of oil spills on neonatal mortality is independent of the family’s socio-economic status or the location.
The study also found some evidence that oil spills impair the health of surviving children. “In particular, oil spills prior to conception increase the incidence of low weight-for-height, notably in the first year of life.”
The researchers concluded: “A calculation based on these findings suggests that oil spills, prior to conception, killed around 16,000 infants within the first month of their life in 2012. Of these, 70 per cent (around 11,000 infants) would have survived their first year in the absence of oil spills. While there are good reasons to believe that the exact figure may be different from this estimate (example, the true effect may have been underestimated due to the incomplete oil spill records), the findings point out that onshore oil spills in Nigeria are the cause of an alarming ongoing human tragedy. More attention to the problem by both the research community and the international public is warranted.”
Roland Hodler, a professor of economics at the School of Economics and Political Science, University of St. Gallen said: “The oil companies are one culprit. They are directly responsible for oil spills that result from the lack of maintenance of pipelines and other oil infrastructure. In addition, their indifference towards the local population is one reason for some acts of sabotage. The Nigerian government is another culprit. It fails to properly regulate and control the oil companies as well as to prevent oil theft and sabotage. The only way to stop this ongoing human tragedy is that both the oil companies and the Nigerian government start caring about the environment and the local population particular rather than just about profits and personal enrichment.”
Epidemiological and clinical studies suggest that exposure to hydrocarbons in the environment and to particulate matter in the air can have severe adverse effects on human health, whereby unborn and newborn children are particularly vulnerable. So far, no causal evidence exists on the effects of onshore oil spills on human health.