Hungarian Oil Company to be sued over environmental pollution [Archives:2007/1028/Local News]

February 26 2007

Saeed Al-Batati
Mikalla, Feb 24th ) The Hadramout local council has decided to take legal action against Hungarian oil company MOL for polluting the area of Al-Dhaliha district, located 270 kilometers west of Mukalla. The local council decided to bring the issue to court after many reports and appeals from area residents alarmed the council of the grave consequences of polluting materials.

In a meeting in Mukalla last week, the council pointed fingers at MOL for causing environmental hazards that detrimentally affected citizens. It also promised to call for an international environmental think-tank to oversee oil firms and determine their compliance in terms of environmental safety.

The council didn't allude to the incidence of pollution in the area, whether it's high or low and how many were affected by the pollution. However, a reliable source in Hadramout revealed information to the Yemen Times about what happened to MOL's ill-fated venture. According to the source, MOL of Hungary began drilling an exploratory well for oil in 2001, but the chemical waste resulting from the drilling was left uncovered at the site. Bedouin residents of the village didn't realize the hazards of residing around or approaching waste until an unidentified disease soon began spreading among the Bedouin residents.

Some of the infected Bedouins needed medication even traveled to Jordan for treatment, where Jordanian doctors concluded that the highly-poisonous materials likely caused their diseases. “For our part, we didn't disregard the case. We went to the company to demand compensation and treatment and we also called upon local influential people to step in. Unfortunately, the company didn't care and our appeals were trampled underfoot” the source said.

In the meantime, the number of cancer patients increased to eight, four of whom since have died. The source confirmed that all published media reports about environmental hazards causing blood cancer in Al-Dhaliha are true. “People here don't eat canned or artificial food. But suddenly, these people were struck with stomach cancer,” the source explained. However, a committee from the Atomic Power Assembly and another committee from the Central Assembly from Sana'a visited the area and reported that all of the leftover materials were free of any toxic substances.

However, according to the unnamed source, some committee members told him the waste contained highly-toxic substances. “We're still determined to sue the company,” the source noted.

The waste remains in the same location until now, and when it rains, the water washes part of it into nearby valleys, which poses a threat to animals and shepherds. “What aggravated the situation is when the company allowed its workers to sell and give away contaminated barrels to residents to use as containers for storing water and seeds,” the source added.

The most outspoken non-partisan newspaper in Hadramout, Al-Muharer, published a bold report in May 2006 containing horrific information about the hazardous waste; the paper quoted Obead Salim Balahrak as saying, “We were happy when the oil company came to drill in our village. We thought our water shortage problem would come to an end and our sons would find jobs in the firm, but nothing of the sort happened. They drilled for oil near our houses. We didn't stand in the way of their work; rather, we helped them. We sent a message to the official in Hadramout to solve the water shortage and compensate us for our land,” Balahrak said.

Although Hadramout Deputy Governor Awadh Hatem ordered MOL to supply the houses with pure drinking water, his orders went up in smoke. After finishing drilling the well, the company poured the waste over a mountain range and couldn't care less about the health and safety of residents; “We informed Hadramout officials about the company's ignorance and asked them to intervene to ask the company to bury the waste. We later learned that they had asked a contractor to bury the garbage, but he didn't.” according to Balahrak.

Salim Bamasad is another cancer sufferer. “I'm exhausted by the treatment expenses. I suffer from blood carcinoma. I've heard that if government may compensate us, they'll pay less than $10,000. In my case, I need $35,000 to change my blood, which I can't afford.” Bamasad says he's simply awaiting death at any time.

Omer Balahrak lost his son to cancer. “While I was with him at a Sana'a hospital, a doctor asked me if there was any oil drilling near where we live. She said this is a crime and carelessness regarding people's lives and that we must sue the company,” Balahrak said

Yemen Times managed to obtain some documents relating to the case. The Hadramout governor sent a letter June 26, 2002 to the executive manager of MOL, informing him that the contractor who was asked to remove the waste hadn't taken it away. “Al-Dhaliha villagers lodged a complaint about your company drilling in the area and waste that was left uncovered. Such waste poses a threat to the people. You should make it incumbent upon your contractor to bury the waste,” the letter said.

In another letter, former Minister of Oil Rasheed Baraba sent a letter to the Hadramout governor telling him that the ministry would bear the expenses of treating two of the cancer patients in Jordan. After a month, the governor replied to Baraba's letter, nominating two patients to travel to Jordan with two other companions. The minister's letter was dated July 2, 2005 – three years after residents reported the incident to the governor.

In a third letter, former Hadramout Secretary-General Salmeen Al-Mara'e addressed the manager of the Ministry of Oil office in Hadramout, telling him that Al-Dhaliha residents complained of the sudden spread of a disease caused by the waste from drilling in the area.

The Ministry of Oil and minerals has established a department for environmental oversight in 2006 by a decree from the current Oil Minister Khalid Bahah, however, when the YemenTimes contacted the department on the subject, we were asked to forward our queries to the local authority and the local council of Hadhramout, but refused to comment on the issue.