The Niger Delta: Its Importance and Its Threats


The Niger Delta is a very densely populated region located in the south of Nigeria. It sits on the Gulf of Guinea. Deltas are wetlands; they form in areas where rivers empty their water and sediment into other bodies of water. The area is known for its many oil spills, which have drawn international concern.

Why is the Niger Delta Important?

The Niger Delta is the largest wetland and third largest drainage basin in Africa. It contains four ecological zones: coastal barriers, mangrove forests, swamps, and rainforests. Due to the large variation in landscape, the Niger Delta has a high concentration of biodiversity. For example, it has the most diversity in freshwater fish in any ecosystem in West Africa. 31 million people live in this area from more than 40 ethnic groups. The delta provides them with their livelihoods, through fish and farmland.

What is threatening the Niger Delta? 

There are many threats to the Niger Delta. The extensive construction of dams may lead to a 40% loss of inhabitable terrain in the next thirty years. However, the main threat is oil spills. Oil spills have been occurring for the past 50 years, which has made this area very polluted. The Nigerian government has recorded 9,343 cases of oil spillages in the last 10 years. It is estimated that 2,300 cubic metres of petroleum are dumped annually into the environment.

Why are so many oil spills occurring? 

Oil spillages occur due to pipeline and tanker incidents (50%), sabotage (28%), oil production operations (21%), and poor equipment (1%). There are lots of small oil fields in the Niger Delta and they need many small pipes to connect them. These are mainly laid above ground, and many of them are 20-25 years old. This means that they leak easily. Also, they are easy to access for those who would want to steal the oil to sell on the black market.

What are the consequences of the oil spills? 

Oil spills lead to lots of environmental destruction. It has been estimated that 5-10% of mangrove forests have been destroyed. Crops and fish farms are also badly affected. The oil spills are harming local people, with many reporting health issues. These include breathing problems. Furthermore, their access to clean water is being threatened.

How is this problem being combatted?  

In August 2017, a $1 billion cleanup and restoration program was launched by the Nigerian government. This program was set up after a United Nations report in 2011. There are also local movements for the protection of the Niger Delta. For example, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People. This organisation represents over 700,000 individuals. It is a non-violent campaign that is fighting for social, economic, and environmental justice.


The Niger Delta is an important area of the planet. It contains lots of biodiversities and is home to millions of people. Unfortunately, oil spillages are threatening to ruin this amazing habitat. Work is starting to be done, but there is still a lot more to do. 

Leah Rich


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