Nigeria: 2,000 dead in ten years of pipeline blasts

A pretty astounding figure. But as we noted the last time it happened, in May: when resource hyper-exploitation co-exists with dire poverty, such incidents are absolutely inevitable. From IRIN, Dec. 28:

LAGOS – The Nigerian Red Cross has taken the lead in responding to the latest pipeline blast in Lagos on Tuesday that killed at least 269 people and left scores of others severely burned.

“We were the first to get first aid to survivors at the site,” said Umoh Okon, a spokeswoman of the local humanitarian organisation, told IRIN in Lagos. With more than 2,000 Nigerians killed in pipeline fires in the past decade, the organization has had plenty of experience in dealing with such disasters. “We have volunteers on the ground trained in emergency aid,” Okon said.

Red Cross workers quickly evacuated survivors to hospitals and set up a register to help people identify bodies of family members and locate missing persons, she said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) provided them with some drugs and other supplies, she said. Officially ICRC operations are limited to conflict zones.

The pipeline exploded in the Abule Egba District of Lagos after it had been ruptured by what government officials describe as criminals gangs. At the time of the explosion hundreds of people were gathered around the leaking pipe scooping up fuel to sell illegally.

The Red Cross said that, as of Wednesday, relief workers had buried 238 unidentified bodies.

More than 50 people had come to the Red Cross to report missing family members, he added. Many were also seen going around hospitals with pictures of charred bodies taken at the blast site in the hope of exchanging information on the identities of the deceased.

Residents in the area said many burn victims were still in hiding, fearing that if they sought medical help they would be arrested and prosecuted for having tampered with the pipeline.

The government pledged that it would not prosecute. “When something happens on this scale our main concern is how to save lives,” Ibrahim Talba, the permanent secretary in the health ministry, told reporters in Lagos.

State-run hospitals are also providing free treatment to survivors, he said. A blood bank has been set up by the National Emergency Management Agency and the government has set aside 50 hospital beds and put 20 plastic surgeons along with 40 nurses on stand-by.

However officials at various hospitals said they lack the equipment and expertise to deal with the many severe cases. Burns typically covered between 60 and 100 percent of victims’ bodies, they said.

International expertise is welcome, said a senior official in the health ministry. “To have any chance of a normal life, most of the injured need expert plastic surgeons and we just don’t have enough,” he said.

A team of doctors from Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have been in Lagos since Tuesday visiting hospitals and providing victims with treatment and drugs, an MSF official told IRIN on Thursday. “They’re using this time to assess what other help is needed,” he added.

Also the local Red Cross is conducting a needs assessment, Okon said.

Soot released into the atmosphere following the blast is a health risk, Sikuade Jagun, the director of the Lagos State Ambulance Services, told reporters. He advised residents with breathing difficulties to seek medical help.

“That environment is unhealthy for people living and working in the area, and even for those involved in the rescue,” he told reporters. “My advice is that people should not stay too long in the area.”

The explosion comes during an acute shortage of fuel in the city. It is the second such disaster this year in Lagos, with an earlier blast in May in Ilado District killing at least 200 people.

The single worst incident occurred at the town of Jesse in the Niger Delta in 1998. It claimed more than 1,000 lives.

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