WASHINGTON, July 20 (UPI) -- There are as many as 2,000 sites in Nigeria that need remediation from oil spills in the oil-rich African state, an investigation found.
The Niger Delta region is home to about 31 million people. U.N. agencies said about 60 percent of the population rely on wetlands in the region for their livelihoods.
A report in the U.S. news magazine Newsweek said that "extensive and ongoing" oil spills have continued in Nigeria since oil exploration began in 1958, the deputy editor told National Public Radio.
"Really, experts estimate that approximately each year, there's a spill the size of the Exxon Valdez in the Niger Delta, which is home to 31 million people, the world's third largest area of kind of wetlands, which is mangroves and fish and shellfish," said Julia Baird.
Baird said a legacy of military dictatorship in Nigeria left much of the environment neglected in a country where there are 2,000 sites yet to be cleaned.
International oil companies downplay their role in the environmental damage in the Niger Delta. They blame regional militants for 90 percent of the spills in the region.
Environmental group Oilwatch Africa singled out Exxon Mobil, however, saying the company's environmental record in Nigeria was "disturbing."