When a Nigerian judge ruled in 2005 that Shell’s practice of gas flaring in the Niger Delta was a violation of citizens’ constitutional rights to life and dignity, Nnummo Bassey, a local environmental activist, was thrilled.

Bassey’s organization, Friends of the Earth, had helped communities in the Niger Delta sue Shell for gas flaring, a highly polluting practice that caused mass disruption to communities in the region, polluting water and crops. Researchers had found that those disruptions were associated with increased rates of cancer, blood disorders, skin diseases, acid rain, and birth defects—leading to a life expectancy of 41 in the region, 13 years fewer than the national average.

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Photo Credit: Mike Kemp/In Pictures, Getty Images