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-missed diplomatic row between Britain and the US.
No-one denies that the oil spill is a disaster that is having a devastating effect on ecosystems in the affected areas, as well as on the fishing and tourism industries. But what about a little proportion?
Receiving somewhat less attention in the international press is the environmental outrage that has been inflicted on the Niger delta over the last 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. While 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 1.5m tons of oil has 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 9m barrels of oil had been spilled. These figures suggest that every year, an equivalent amount 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 meters. 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 US. Over two generations, life expectancy in the region's rural communities -- where many people cannot access clean water -- has fallen to just over 40 years.
Obama is right to recognise the scale of the disaster in the gulf (which, he said today, echoes "9/11"), but it is rather sobering to take note of this disparity. Yet again, it seems to be one rule for the west, and one for the rest of the world.
Source: New Statesman