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A Humanitarian Disaster in the Making Along the Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline -- Who's Watching?

The discovery of oil in Chad was supposed to allieviate poverty and human suffering, but it's only enriched Western Oil companies and the local dictators.

In 2000 Big Oil, the World Bank, and two corrupt dictators teamed up to launch the Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline Project. Years on, the media attention is subsiding while the negative impacts of the pipeline worsen daily. Brendan Schwartz and Valery Nodem reporting from Chad and Cameroon.

Know Chad?

If you’ve heard of Chad -- no, not the Bengals’ Ochocinco -- you probably haven’t heard anything good about it. Almost continuous war since independence and its involvement the Darfur conflict have gotten Chad nothing but bad press. One author called it “a neglected tragedy of a nation.” Chad is in fact a strikingly beautiful country and its people are as vibrant and diverse as any. But without a doubt, there is great human suffering. And as many people have noted, the discovery of black gold isn’t helping.

The Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline Project, although relatively little-known to the general public, was for a time the source of fierce debate and high rhetoric in international development circles. The World Bank-financed project in the heart of war-torn Central Africa pumps 170,000 barrels/day of crude from Chad’s Doba basin to Cameroon’s Atlantic port city of Kribi, 1,080 kilometers away. Led by such corporations as Exxon and Chevron, the pipeline received plaudits from the World Bank as “an unprecedented framework to transform oil wealth into direct benefits for the poor, the vulnerable and the environment.” Nine years after the World Bank agreed to finance the pipeline, six years after oil went online, and just one year after the World Bank quit the project, Chad-Cameroon is slowly fading from the development spotlight. The World Bank quietly released their own evaluationof the project last week admitting that the project failed to achieve its two main goals of reducing poverty and improving governance. One hopes this is not the World Bank’s final evaluation of the project since oil is scheduled to flow for another twenty years and the worst of the project’s impacts are just beginning to be felt. This is an update from the field.

National Mourning and Broken Promises

For Chadian President Idriss Deby, oil revenues are a means to prolong abusive and undemocratic rule. He changed the constitution to become president for life, used over 30% of Chad’s oil revenues on war, and used money destined for development in “priority sectors” to grant opaque, no-bid public contracts to god knows whom -- all things he promised not to do. It is little wonder that Chadian civil society declared the pipeline’s inauguration a day of national mourning. The World Bank’s public sector lending arms (the IDA and IBRD) announced their withdrawal from the project in 2008 stating “Chad failed to comply with key requirements” of their participation, though the World Bank’s private sector lending arm (the IFC) had no problem staying on board to reap the benefits of its $200 million commercial loan. Many promises were also made to people living in the oil-producing zone in the southwest of Chad. Villagers were promised fair compensation for the loss of land expropriated by Exxon, employment with the oil companies for the life of the project, and 5% of oil revenues to be invested in their villages. According to local residents, these promises were empty.

The Displaced

A woman in the Bero village of the oil producing zone explained that Exxon had displaced her whole family and promised to build them new houses equipped with furniture and find them new land. Although new houses were built, the construction was so shoddy that Exxon was forced to return just two years later and rebuild them to avoid a major PR embarrassment. There is no furniture to be found. In theory, everyone displaced by the project received some form of compensation, but rarely has it been sufficient to restore their standard of living. This is because Chad’s oil happens to be located a few meters below Chad’s most fertile agricultural land. The farming problem is especially serious since the zone is Chad’s only breadbasket and feeds most of the country. Exxon and the project planners claimed that compensations would be paid to displaced people, but that “self resettlement” would take place naturally whereby villagers would find/purchase new land for farming from a “village land pool.” A recent Chadian report notes that this has not happened; many farmers have not found land or enough land. Agricultural production is continually declining and will ultimately penalize the entire country.

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