Hadramout’s Concession Areas: Oil in Return of Cancer


Sun, 08-05-2022 10:59 PM, Aden

Abdullah Al-Shadli (South24) 

Hadramout, the biggest governorate in South Yemen, suffers from environmental pollution caused by oil exploration.

Recently, oil pollution reached a high level and became a threat against people who live in the concession areas. This pushed tens of families to settle in the main cities of Seiyun and Mukalla as well as other remote areas due to their fear from diseases.

The oil companies in Hadramout work to reduce losses to the least possible degree. This pushes them towards practices which harm the surrounding environment amid the lack of oversight or any role played by the General Authority for Environmental Protection, according to sources who spoke to "South24".

The violation of the public health standards by oil companies operating in Hadramout has led to the emergence of cancerous diseases which target children. This includes throat cancer which usually hits smokers and old people according to Dr. Ahmed Bakhalaa, a general and pediatric surgeon, who spoke to "South24".


While the governmental bodies kept silence about the gross harms caused by oil waste and the several diseases that hit many citizens, information obtained by "South24" via various interviews with Hadramout’s oil concession areas residents concluded that lung, blood, liver and throat malignancies along with asthma are the forefront diseases in these regions. 

In this context, Dr. Bakhalaa said: “Being spatially close to the oil companies could lead to respiratory diseases, bronchitis, shortness of breath, vocal cord diseases, suffocation, tuberous sclerosis, asthma, and cancer in the advanced cases if not handled and treated as soon as being diagnosed”.

He added: ”To be honest, we should not deny that those companies are probably the reason behind the spread of these diseases. We only don’t have scientific evidence to confirm this. Unfortunately, no one is able to storm these thorny matters”.

He attributed the silence of hospitals, institutions and organizations about the environmental pollution emitted from oil companies to “the common interests between the companies and some institutions, as well as the subsidies they obtain" adding that "the subsidies delivered to these institutions are the price of their silence and not because they adore cancer".

However, Dr. Walid Al-Bataty, the Executive Director of the Hadramout Cancer Foundation believes that "it is not a must that all these diseases are caused by oil companies".

He also told "South24": "It is true that we receive several cancer cases, some of them coming from oil concession areas and some from other areas. However, we can't scientifically confirm that they are caused by gases emitted from these companies, to practically prove that, there is a need to take samples from soil, water and others".

Pollution and solid waste in Hadramout's Ghail Bin Yamin district. April 28th, 2022 (South24, Abdullah Al-Shadli).

Salem Bakhezel, the Director of General Authority for Environmental Protection in Hadramout believes that “oil problems became the biggest trouble in the governorate” 

He told “South24”, that “we should address these problems and their fatal effects on the environment and humans before reaching uncontrollable and incurable levels”.    

“Pollution in general, particularly air pollution, has a negative impact on public health, especially children, elderly and those who are immunocompromised” he added. 

He pointed out that the “the long geographical distance between those companies and the city made it difficult to follow-up their performance and activities”

Meanwhile, medical sources revealed to “South24” that “oil companies and the authorities in Hadramout prohibit engaging in research activities regarding the damages caused by oil companies to the environment”.

The sources said: “By appointing Taha Abdullah Hajar as Hadramout Governor in 2007 to succeed Abdulqader Hilal - during the era of the Sanaa central government - the governor halted all research activities backed by his predecessor. He believed that such activities touch national security. He threatened all researchers involved”.

According to the sources, those research activities have been suspended since 2007 as all subsequent Hadrami governors follow Hajar’s suit amid a big media blackout regarding these facts”.

Rare diseases

Speaking about cancer, Bakhalaa said: “years ago, I received a child who had throat cancer. His family came from an oil concession area”. 

He added: “According to medical references, this disease often hits adults, especially smokers. It is more likely that it is a result of the environmental pollution in oil concession areas. But there is no scientific and practical evidence to confirm this although it is the only logical justification”.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Shenini, a doctoral student from Al-Raydah district in Hadramout Coast agrees with Bakhalaa. He said that “a 3-year old son of one of his relatives in an oil concession area was diagnosed with brain cancer”.

Al-Shenini told “South24” that “these diseases are certainly caused by the environmental pollution in the concession areas. It won’t be the last incident as it was preceded by horrible facts”.

Dubious statistics

Despite the paucity in sources about the number of cancer patients in Hadramout’s oil concession areas, “South24” obtained recent statistics about the population census in some of the governorate’s districts and the number of cancer cases there. The results show an imbalance between the population density and the cancer cases in the concession areas”.

The numbers of documented cancer cases are higher in the areas far away from oil companies in comparison with the concession areas according to the statistics which surprised Dr. Mohammed Al-Shenini.

For example, in Tarim district, which has a population of 173,704, there is one cancer case per every 1600 persons. In Ghail Bin Yamin district which has a population of 55,263, there is one cancer case per every 2530 persons. In Sah district which has a population of 41,685, there is one cancer case per every 4631 persons. In Al-Dhaliah district which has a population of 31,283, there is one cancer case per every 4500 persons. 

On the other hand, things are totally different in the areas which are far from these companies in comparison with the population numbers. In the city of Al-Mukalla which has a population of 412,707, there is one cancer case per every 1810 persons. In the city of Seiyun which has a population of 176,798, there is one cancer case per every 1500 persons. 

 The statistics, obtained by “South24” don’t prove the spread of these diseases with the oil concession areas in Hadramout. However, Dr. Mohammed Al-Shenini denied that these numbers are correct.

Al-Shenini attributed the lack of accurate documentation of cancer cases in the oil concession areas to several reasons. He claimed that this "reveals the blatant collusion between the relevant authorities and oil companies”.

He noted that “epidemics and diseases in the oil concession areas continuously increase amid the absence of statistics” adding that people who live in these areas are victims of what he dubbed as “cancerous companies”. 

Number of cancer cases in the Hadramout’s major cities and oil concession areas (Source Hadramout Cancer Foundation, Health and Population Office) 
Note: “South24” does not guarantee the authenticity of these numbers

Burdensome costs and suffering

Abdullah Al-Namouri, a teacher who lives in an oil concession area in Hadramout, told “South24”: “We are the ones who bear the treatment costs. Some cases require traveling abroad. Patients bear the burden of costs alone”. 

He added: “We urged the relevant bodies to put solutions and treatments for the problems of environmental pollution and oil spill we have experienced over the past years but most of these treatments were only spontaneous”. 

Al-Shenini believes that "those companies must undertake the treatment costs for those who are proven to contract diseases because of their activities". He added: "One should not keep silent towards these diseases. I believe that oil companies are the main reason behind their spread and hiding their numbers".

Amr Al-Qarzy, a resident of Gail Bin Yamin said: "I traveled with my wife to India after we detected tumors in her lungs. We paid costs of travel and treatment although they were beyond our capacity".

Al-Qarzy detailed to "South24" how the officials in the district's oil company refused to pay the costs of treating his wife abroad. He added: "All our attempts and mediations between us and the officials failed. I had to sell a plot of land for below its fair price in 2013".

He elaborated: "We are victims of those companies which extract toxins daily. When I told my story to an Indian doctor, he told me that the companies should pay the treatment costs". Al-Qarzy asked: "To whom can we complain about the injustice of these companies which don't fear God?"

Deliberate pollution

Toxins and gas emissions are not the only environmental threats in Hadramout's oil concession areas but the water associated with oil and its random injection has a very dangerous impact on the environment and groundwater.

In an interview with "South24", chemical engineer Emad Bamasdos said: "Liquidation of crude oil on the soil surface before it is treated leads to the release of many gases that have harmful emissions to the environment, humans, animals and even plants.”

Remote areas subjected to pollution in Wadi Hajar in Hadramout on April 28th 2022 ("South24", Abdullah Al-Shadli)

Bamasdos talked about the most prominent of these gases, foremost of which are methane, ethane, propane and butane, in addition to other polycyclic aromatic gases, such as BTX gases, "which are considered among the most toxic gases and cause respiratory cancers", according to the engineer.

 "The emission of the highly-toxic Hydrogen Sulfide Gas leads, in case of inhaling it, to respiratory problems and loss of consciousness. This also affects the eyes and mucous membranes in the nose and throat and damages the lung's bronchus".

He added: “A concentration of 500 PPM causes loss of consciousness immediately, with a rattle in the throat and interruption in breathing. Later, this could cause brain paralysis and death in a matter of minutes.”

He indicated that "the oil-associated water contains high percentages of dissolved salts which in turn contain radioactive elements that are deposited on the surface of the soil. The exposure to these substances leads to cancer.”

The engineer explained how heating oil for refining purposes is accompanied by the release of several highly-toxic gases "such as carbon dioxide, sulfur and nitrogen". As for the radioactive pollution associated with burning oil, it causes an increase in the concentration of radioactive radon gas, which leaves dangerous effects and causes cancer.

According to the chemical engineer, "this gas is a heavy one which remains near the surface and could cause diseases in the region, especially that wind moves it to various areas".

Bamasdos elaborated that “this gas eventually leads to the fall of radioactive dust over soil, water and human beings which causes big pollution and gross damage”.

However, geological engineer Hassan Baras, the Chairman of the “Hadrami Oil Graduates Committee” said: “The actual problem which should be highlighted is the oil-associated water. The water percentage in some oil fields reaches between over 80-90%. This water doesn’t fit for human consumption”.

“This water is often injected under the ground parallel to the underground water layers although It should be injected in deeper levels to avoid water pollution risks,“ he added. 

Baras attributed this to the lack of oversight and the silence of officials, adding that the companies make this to avoid losses. 

Drastic solutions

In order to reduce health risks in Hadramout’s oil areas, Salem Bakhezel said: “We tried to establish a processing unit under the umbrella of the state authority but what has been achieved was below our expectations despite our good efforts”.

Citizens' farms are irrigated using wells to avoid polluted running water in Wadi Hajar in Hadramout, April 28th 2022 (“South24", Abdullah Al-Shadli).

Bakhezel added: “Our oil fields problem is that we lack sufficient information about them. It is necessary to spread environmental and health awareness immediately in the polluted areas as well as activating campaigns to properly clean and process these sites”. 

Eng. Bamasdos said: “It is better to address the radioactive pollution caused by radioactive elements existing in the water associated with crude oil”. 

He explained that “these elements can be dissolved and melted down or reused outside the area” indicating that “later; there will be no way to detect them as the radioactive threat won’t be obvious and needs special devices to be detected”.

As part of urgent solutions, Al-Shenini believes that oil companies should be obliged to pay the treatment costs of everyone proven to contract any disease caused by their activities. He described this as an “internationally-recognizable matter” wondering “Why these companies don’t abide by even the humanitarian costumes?” 

Residents of the oil concession areas in South Yemen live in a state of fear and anxiety from cancer diseases due to the lack of oversight and accountability. This allowed oil companies to evade responsibility amid the absence of law according to locals who spoke to “South24”.

Editor and journalist at South24 Center for News and Studies 
Photo: Citizens’ farms in one of the oil concession areas in Wadi Hadramout (South24)

South YemenMedical IllnessHadramoutCancerMalignanciesEnviromental Health