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Soaked in oil: The cost of war in South Sudan

Leer, South Sudan - The Thar Jath oilfield - just like civilians here - is caught in a deadly civil war and unable to thrive amid fierce fighting.

The oil site, located in northern South Sudan's Unity State, is only accessible from the main dirt road connecting rebel opposition-controlled Leer, to the current government-held area around the state capital, Bentiu.

It is volatile territory currently held by Sudan People's Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) forces.

According to rebel soldiers deployed to the area, international employees deserted the facility in August 2013, four months before civil war broke out in South Sudan's capital, Juba, and ripped across the country, pitting two dominant tribes - the Dinka and the Nuer - against one another.

Fourteen months later, the ongoing fighting has left at least 50,000 people dead and some two million displaced.

At the Thar Jath facility, the offices for Sudd Petroleum Exporting Company are ransacked. It is a scene of pillage - documents and equipment left behind suggest a hasty departure.

A sea of crumpled paper is found in the hallway, and doors hang from broken hinges. There is smashed glass and upturned tables.



Fire extinguishers, hard hats, and ear plugs are scattered on the floor of a control room where the machinery has been ripped out.

Outside, at the heart of the plant's central processing facility, vegetation is invading and toxic oil is leaking into the earth.

"We are in the centre of a war zone," said Klaus Stieglitz, vice chairman for German aid group Sign of Hope who is here to investigate water contamination.

"The situation at this site is much worse than I expected. We can see massive leakages from the tubes and pipes with chemicals are allowed to seep into the ground," he told Al Jazeera.

Oil is pooling at the base of rusting metal and concrete structures and has overflowed the drainage ditches.

"This is an environmental catastrophe. The oil will reach into the first drinking-water level [beneath the ground surface] and affect the local population," said Stieglitz.

More on this story

The oilfields in oil-rich Unity state have been non-operational since the civil war began in December 2013.

New results from a six-year study by Sign of Hope and African Water Ltd highlights contamination of groundwater below the surface that can only be attributed to oil exploration and production activities.

The study estimates at least 180,000 - and maybe as many as half a million people - could be affected by oil-contaminated drinking water in this area, according to a researcher involved, Dr Hella Rueskam.

At one large waste pond in Thar Jath there is evidence of the oil company's poor disposal practices: no sign of necessary plastic linings to prevent ground absorption.

A thick band of black grass around the pond shows that oil has already seeped into the soil and the upper groundwater level, explained Stieglitz.

"We told the companies years ago to line their waste ponds, it is not expensive. But if you do not line it and stop seepage then [the companies] have a more expensive process to remove waste," he said.

The nearest settlement to Thar Jath is Rier - a parched, bleak outpost eight kilometres away. In 2006, the oil company relocated people here who were originally living on the oilfield itself.

According to Mayil Thay Woor, deputy rebel commissioner for Koch county, most of Rier's population of 6,000 fled into the bush to escape clashes between government and rebel forces.

A large tank erected by the oil company to store clean water for the village stands broken and empty. Children play naked in muddy puddles around the only working hand-pump.

The last time Stieglitz tested a sample from this pump in early 2009 - when the oil company was operating - the salinity result was 6.7 microSiemens/cm - already a dangerously high level.

A recent test now shows an increase in salt content to 8.1 microSiemens/cm. International health standards indicate salinity levels in drinking water should not exceed 2.5 microSiemens/cm.

"This water is too salty, we cannot use it," said Agar Jok, a mother of eight, standing beside the hand-pump.

"We take our water from a dam in the river. We cannot stop the children from drinking here, but then in five days we must take them to the hospital. They get sick."

She said she currently walks for two hours to collect about 20 litres of river water twice a day.

The Sign of Hope and African Water Ltd study found that sodium chloride-dominated water does not occur naturally in these parts of Unity state.

"We did not find rock in the study area that could be a natural source for the salt we found in the water supply," said Rueskamp.

Water samples from surrounding wells and ponds also showed the presence of heavy metals such as lead, chrome and zinc.

"This contamination is caused by the water produced by the CPF and by drilling additives," said Rueskamp.

Communities in the area have complained for years about undrinkable pump water and high livestock mortality.

Rumours abound of human birth abnormalities.

Excessive levels of heavy metals such as lead in the human body will increase the likelihood of blood diseases and brain and nerve system damage.

The pump water here is too salty to drink so communities are forced to take it from swamps and rivers, thereby exposing themselves to surface water-borne bacteria and diseases such as bilharzia, said Dr Mineab Sebhatu, a medical coordinator with Sign of Hope.

The South Sudanese government has not cooperated with the research, according to Professor John Ariki, a geoscientist at Juba University.

"There is a reluctance of the authorities on the dangers of these oil activities. The oil companies deny involvement in contamination … and the authorities accept it," said Ariki. "Since oil is a source of income [the government] does not want to anger the companies."

Requests for comment from the South Sudan government and Sudd Petroleum were not received by publication time.

Results show the environmental damage here is already done, according to Rueskamp. "In these areas we have no chance to clean the first water table. We can only find an alternative."

This alternative could involve drilling down to find a second, deeper water table that is clean - a process that would require funding, equipment, and logistics in the active war zone.

With battles ongoing and armed groups multiplying, it seems unlikely oil companies or the South Sudanese government will return to these oilfields any time soon.

The post Soaked in oil: The cost of war in South Sudan appeared first on African Media Agency.

Lesotho election results reveal no outright winner

The final results of Lesotho's general elections have revealed no outright winner as the ruling party narrowly edged out its nearest rivals, data on the website of the country's electoral commission showed.

Incumbent prime minister Thomas Thabane's All Basotho Congress (ABC) party won 40 constituencies in the weekend poll, just three more than the Democratic Congress (DC), as the close race tested the durability of a South Africa-brokered truce following an attempted coup by the army last August.

The DC's 37 seats, along with the remaining three won by the opposition, versus the ABC's total, are not enough for either party to meet the 60 plus one requirement for forming an independent government in the southern African nation.

Al Jazeera's Erica Wood, reporting from the capital Maseru, said: "We have the MMP [Mixed Member Proportional] system here.

"We do not know how this is going to play out. What is happening now is that the [major] parties are discussing with the smaller parties as to how a coalition will work out."

The snap poll on Saturday was brought forward by nearly two years after Thabane briefly fled to South Africa in August when soldiers occupied police headquarters and encircled his palace.

Thabane accused his deputy Mothetjoa Metsing, a member of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) party, who two constituencies at the weekend, of working with the army to oust him, an allegation Metsing and the military dismissed.

The attempted coup triggered concerns of political violence, leading to a Southern African Development Community (SADC) intervention headed by South Africa's deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa.

The SADC, a regional bloc, brings together 15 member nations.

Apart from textile exports and a slice of regional customs receipts, the state of two million people's other main earner is water piped to South Africa, making it of strategic importance to Pretoria.

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Kenya burns tonnes of ivory confiscated from poachers

In a move to discourage poaching and trade in ivory, Kenya's president set fire to 15 tonnes of elephant tusks at a World Wildlife Day event.

Twenty-five years since ivory trade was banned, new demand from emerging markets threatens Africa's elephants and rhinos, President Uhuru Kenyatta said at Tuesday's ceremony at the Nairobi National Park in the capital city.

African countries are concerned about the scale and rate of the new threat to endangered wildlife species, he said.

"Many of these tusks belonged to elephants which were wantonly slaughtered by criminals. We want future generations of Kenyans, Africans and the entire world to experience the majesty and beauty of these magnificent beasts. Poachers and their enablers will not have the last word," Kenyatta said before setting ablaze a tall pile of elephant tusks doused with petrol.

Higher demand for ivory is fuelling elephant killings by poachers across Africa.

Save The Elephants, a London-based wildlife conservation group, said last year that 100,000 elephants were killed in Africa between 2010 and 2012.

Chinese ban

China on Thursday imposed a one-year ban on ivory imports amid criticism that its citizens' huge appetite for ivory threatens the existence of Africa's elephants.

Ian Douglas Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants, said research released by his organisation showed that the price of elephant ivory has tripled in China since 2010.

Hamilton said Kenya has a long way to go before it can be clear of the poaching menace. The elephant populations in Tanzania, Gabon, Cameroun, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Republic of Congo and Congo are the worst hit by poaching, he added.

The years 2011, 2012 and 2013 witnessed the highest levels of poaching since a poaching crisis in the 1980s, according to Kenya's Wildlife Service.

Poaching declined last year with 164 elephants and 35 rhinos killed, down from 302 elephants and 59 rhinos killed in 2013.

Officials partially attributed the decline to stiffer penalties adopted last year for those involved in the illegal wildlife business.

"We would like to tell the world to stop the trade in ivory because it is destroying our economy, our heritage, our environment," said Paul Udoto, a spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service.

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How effective will the Ebola summit be?

A conference involving world leaders meeting in Brussels aims to mobilise efforts to put an end to the Ebola outbreak in Africa.

The gathering is organised by the European Union and seeks to sustain the international momentum in the fight against the virus. The conference also discusses ways to help the affected countries revive their economies.

West African leaders have said that a real recovery will require what they described as a Marshall Plan.

But could the money allocated during this conference be of any significant help? And what does it take to prevent a new Ebola outbreak?

Presenter: Sami Zeidan

Guests:

Salifu Mamudu - Liberia Country Director for Oxfam.

Jonathan Rosenthal - Africa Editor for the Economist.

Pieter Desloovere - Spokesman for the World Health Organisation in Sierra Leone.

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Footballers changing lanes

More and more African countries are now looking to Europe for ready-made top-class talent with ancestral link to make them more competitive in the international arena.

With the exception of South African and Zimbabwe, all squads at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations included players born or raised in Europe. Sixteen out of 23 Algerian players were born in France while hosts Equatorial Guinea had 14 players who were born in Spain.

The numbers reflect the demand on an up-and-coming new generation of talent born in Europe but of an African descent. But some countries have been handed multiple brush-offs lately.

'Lost African sons'

Marseille midfielder Mario Lemina rejected his country of birth Gabon's call after being named in their squad for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. His reason: "My wish is to play for France".

These minor setbacks, however, have not deterred the quest to convince 'lost African sons' to return to their rightful African 'homes'.

For some, there are no incentives in playing for a country where they have never lived in, visited or rarely know but are only tied to by ancestry. It's an easy choice to play for the European country in which they are born and raised.

They are also highly motivated to emulate 'fellow Africans' and 1998 World Cup winners Zinedine Zidane, Marcel Desailly and Patrick Vieira – all sons of African immigrants.

Difficult choice

One of the stars of this year's tournament, Crystal Palace winger Yannick Bolasie, was torn between two tough choices.

Eligible to represent France (birth), England (upbringing) and DR Congo (parentage), Bolasie rejected the chance to play for the latter at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations because he needed time to consider playing for England or DRC.

Four months later, he eventually chose DRC and won his first international cap against Libya in a World Cup qualifier. Now enjoying a regular international career, the 25-year-old is a favourite with DRC fans.

"I was always in two minds, but at the end of the day I thought I'd go and play for my parents' country," Bolasie said. "They were really happy too, watching the game online.”

For every Bolasie who had to make the choice on his own, there are many others who are deprived of a golden chance of playing for the African country of their parents, either by choice or by their European clubs.

Restricted

With African football chiefs are desperate not to allow exciting talent to slip away, European officials have also intensified efforts to guard against the poaching of their prospects. One player confirmed to Al Jazeera that despite a dual citizenship, there was a clause in his contract that prevented him from representing his African country.

And there are several who, in their formative years, chose to play for a European junior side but never progressed beyond the under-21 level.

These days, French-born talent of African descent are increasingly benefiting from a FIFA regulations change and enjoying international careers for a new country, even after they have played for France.

Previously, any player who had played for one country in a competitive international, even if it was U17, would never be allowed to play for another country. That was the case even if he obtained, or already possessed, the nationality of the second country.

Rule change

But keen to attract a generation of Europe-born talent of African descent, Algeria proposed a change in 2001.

After much thought, FIFA introduced a new rule on January 1, 2004 that allows a previously capped footballer capped at junior level to be able to represent another country later. But only as long as he possessed dual nationality and made the request before turning 21.

French-born defender Antar Yahia became the first footballer to take advantage of the new rule when he made his debut for Algeria in an Olympic Games qualifier.

Yahia, then from the French first division club Bastia, scored the only goal in the win over Ghana for the Algerian U23 side. He was followed by Samir Beloufa and Ouadah Abdelnasser who were also French junior internationals, but opted for international careers with Algeria.

Restrained by the age-restriction dilemma in this rule, African officials approached Fifa to change their statutes to allow all eligible players benefit from this 'second opportunity'. In June 2009, FIFA's congress approved a motion from Algeria to abandon that restriction by removing the age limit for players who want to switch allegiance.

Back to the roots

It was evident at AFCON 2015 that this rule has given some African countries the chance to become more competitive while also improving the quality of play.

Born in France to Algerian parents, Yacine Brahimi played for the French youth teams from U16 to the U-21 before switching allegiance to Algeria at senior level in 2013.



"It's not something you just wake up to do [switch allegiance],” Brahimi, who scored a fantastic goal against South Korea in the group stages of Brazil 2014, said.

“I wanted to connect more with my roots and this gives me an opportunity to do just that."

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, played for France at under-21 level in a friendly match in February 2009, but six weeks later he scored for Gabon on his debut in a 2010 World Cup qualifier.

It took more than a year of persuasion before he decided his international future was African rather than with the country of his birth.

But one player, France-born Hatem Ben Arfa, did turn his back on his fatherland. In May 2006, Hatem, the son of former Tunisian international Kamel Ben Arfa, rejected a possible place in Tunisia's World Cup squad.

Having represented France at youth level, the youngster ‘wanted to continue playing for France instead'.

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Somalia: A land of opportunity?

Somalia was once seen as a failed state, suffering from violence and lack of governance.

But now hundreds of Ethiopians are moving to Somalia in search of a better life - although Somalia is a much poorer country.

And while many of these migrants help boost the local economy, they face xenophobia and hostility from some locals who want to see them deported.

Abdi Noor Galayr, one community leader, says: "We are not happy with their presence. They have brought many problems in terms of health. We don't know what health issues they may have. They brought criminals to this town like people smugglers. They are also putting pressure on the job market."

Al Jazeera's Hamza Mohamed reports from Mogadishu.

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Are African leaders failing to prove excellence?

Namibia's outgoing president Hifikepunye Pohamba has won the 2014 Ibrahim prize for African leadership.

The award recognises democratically elected African leaders who excel in governance and who step down voluntarily from office at the end of their terms.

Sudanese-born mobile phone billionaire Mo Ibrahim established the annual prize, and the foundation that bears his name in 2006.

It is seen as a reflection of how well nations are doing when it comes to things like human rights, the rule of law and the economy.

For the winner it means a cash prize of $10m over 10 years, followed by $200,000 for life, making it the world's most valuable individual award.

But since its inception there have only been four recipients, raising questions about eligibility and suitability.

So what does it say about leadership in Africa?

Presenter: Sami Zeidan

Guests:

Javas Bigambo - consultant and political analyst who was at Monday's prize announcement.

Adama Gaye - author and political commentator and former Director of Information for the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS.

Henry Malumo - Africa Advocate for Action Aid International and a specialist on good governance.

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Al Jazeera talks to Goodluck Jonathan

In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has pledged to defeat Boko Haram, the armed group that has killed thousands of people in the country's northeast.

Jonathan denied mishandling the Boko Haram crisis and allegations that a recent escalation in military operations against the group was politically motivated.

He also expressed fears about violence during the upcoming presidential election which was postponed because of a lack of security.

Al Jazeera's Yvonne Ndege spoke to Jonathan in Lagos.

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South Africa urged to decriminalise prostitution

About 60 percent of sex workers are HIV positive in South Africa, according to human rights groups who are using the figures to try and persuade the government to decriminalise the industry.

They say a change in the law will help give sex workers more rights.

Al Jazeera's Tania Page reports from Johannesburg.

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