Grand Bassa Communities Accuse Equatorial Oil Palm of Polluting Water Source
Grand Bassa County – Aggrieved residents of Kpogbah Statutory District in Grand Bassa County are claiming that the Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) has been polluting their major drinking water source.
The residents, who are mostly members of villages within the proximity of the palm plantation, told FrontPage Africa that their lives are at risk since the company opened its oil palm milling factory.
Equatorial Palm Oil is an oil palm concession company operating in Grand Bassa, Rivercess and Sinoe Counties. It owns over 169,000 hectares, including 1,000 hectares of plantation land it acquired in 2010 from the government.
The firm holds interests in 34,398 hectares of land at Palm Bay area in Grand Bassa County; 54,550 hectares of land at Butaw, Sinoe County area; and 80,000 hectares of land in RiverCess County.
It is a London based firm listed on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) of the London Stock Exchange. A Malaysian firm, KL-Kepong, owns almost 64 percent interest in the company.
Since entering Grand Bassa County in 2010, the company has been embroiled in allegations of land grabbing by its host communities.
In 2017, Residents of Nohn Town in District Four alarmed international land rights advocacy groups and civil society organizations, asking them to intervene and save their land from the palm company.
The communities claim that the company was only enriching its investors by using their ancestor land to plant palm without seeking the community interest. And that was why they were rejecting the expansion of the company in their district.
In a fresh allegation of polluting the drinking water source, Paul Tamba, spokesperson of the affected towns in Grand Bassa County, alleged that EPO continues to pollute their creeks. Over 20 villages depend on these creeks as a source of drinking water.
They claim wastes, including dirty water and palm chaff, from the company’s mill are dumped into the creeks.
Liquid wastes from the company’s mill run down to the creek through pipes.
Tamba lamented that the pollution of their creeks is causing health hazard for locals especially during the rainy season.
“During the rainy season, we draw water from our polluted creeks and set it down for hours before the dirty water can get set at the bottom of the containers and later dip and use the half-clean water which we drink, cook with and wash our clothes with,’’ Tamba said.
“This creek pollution has and continued to make us encounter water-borne diseases including diarrhea, skin rashes and other skin diseases without cure due to the lack of access to health facilities in our area.’’
He then appealed to the district’s lawmaker, Representative Thomas Goshua, to quickly intervene.
“Hon. Goshua, you have to help us so that EPO can desist from polluting our drinking creeks. This is causing serious health problems to us that are resulting in the death of many pregnant women, children and other citizens”.
Wisseh Bestman, the Government Liaison Manager of EPO, denied the allegation by the communities, terming it as “false, misleading and a fabrication”.
Bestman said the accusation is “only intended to discredit the good gestures the company has over the years offered the citizens, workers and their respective dependents”.
He said it has been almost four years since the company stopped the production of palm oil on the plantation, which means, “in no way the company has polluted the creeks with dirty palm butter” as alleged by the citizens.
He also claimed that housing facilities for the workers are not deplorable as being alleged by workers.
But an independent investigation by FrontPageAfrica revealed that workers of the company are living in deplorable conditions.
Over 300 homes of the company’s workers in a populated residential area known as Yooway’s Camp are relying on a single hand pump as a water source.
Many families have to wake up as early as 5 Am to form long queues in order to fetch water for daily use.
Workers in the camp live mostly in mud-huts use damaged pit latrines and are transported to work on tractors.
Meanwhile, Representative Goshua is yet to intervene on grounds that he has assumed office and is still investigating the matter.
Report by Elton W. Tiah, FPA Contributor