Sitting on a Time Bomb: Oil Pollution Impacts on Human Health in Melut County, South Sudan

While South Sudan is endowed with 3.5 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, the exploitation of this natural wealth is turning into a catastrophe for some local communities, particularly in Melut County. Through focus group discussions, individual interviews, and field observations, we found the following: Many households in Paloch, Melut County, are in close proximity to oil wells and facilities, and within a short distance of a large lake of toxic produced water, exposing them to highly toxic chemicals. Livestock graze around the oilfields, passing on highly toxic pollutants to residents through the food chain. Community drinking water, held in containers that are placed on dusty roadsides by Dar Petroleum Operating Company (DPOC), and chemical containers used by community members to hold water, are likely sources of human exposure to toxic contaminants. Communities have repeatedly complained about a high prevalence of petroleum pollution that causes diseases and reproductive health issues, including birth defects, infertility, stillbirth, and miscarriages, among others. We discovered 13 cases of birth defects, including spinal bifida, facial and head deformities, sexual organ deformities, limb deformities, and growth retardations. All of the participants expressed anger and frustration, a sign of a more serious potential crisis that could cripple petroleum industry operations in the area, if not prioritized and addressed.