Citing serious environmental and human rights concerns, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and representatives of Chad and Cameroon, Africa, including Samuel Nguiffo, winner of the 1999 Goldman Environmental Award, today called for a moratorium on World Bank funding for an oil and pipeline project in the two countries. The project will be built by a consortium of oil companies including Exxon, Shell and the French company ELF.
Nguiffo, who directs the Center for Environment and Development in Cameroon, says he was attacked last week by two gunmen who stole his passport ? just days before he was to travel to the annual World Bank meetings in Washington. “Those who oppose or challenge the project on environmental and human rights grounds have often been harassed,” said Korinna Horta, EDF senior environmental economist.
“The oil companies want World Bank participation in this project to protect them from the risks of investing in these two countries, which are politically volatile and suffer from pervasive corruption,” said Horta. “Cameroon this year was rated the most corrupt country in the world by the respected watchdog organization Transparency International, and Chad has just emerged from years of civil war. Citizens in Chad and Cameroon, and a growing number of international critics, believe this project will only exacerbate corruption, environmental destruction and human rights abuses. The World Bank should not stake its reputation on this mammoth, risky project; the Bank should place a moratorium on funding until the environmental and human rights problems can be solved.”
A recent internal World Bank email about the project from the Vice President for the Environment cites the need for the Bank to launch a public relations campaign with the oil companies to “protect its reputation” and to “mollify” non-governmental organizations critical of the project. A joint analysis of the project’s environmental plan by EDF and the African groups shows that the project puts at risk the environment and the people of Chad and Cameroon.
“The World Bank’s stated goals are poverty alleviation and sustainable development,” said Nguiffo. “We do not believe the current political situation in either country allows for these goals to be achieved through this project. Local people have not been fully informed about the impacts of the project, and when they were consulted, the intimidating presence of armed militias silenced criticism.”
The project includes drilling over 300 oil wells in southern Chad, an area in which, according to Amnesty International, two massacres ordered by Chad’s president in the past year have left hundreds of unarmed civilians dead. “In Chad there is little respect for human rights, and those of us who call attention to the severe abuses being committed by the authorities run serious risks,” said Delphine Djiraibe, the founder of Chad’s main human rights organization.
The pipeline will traverse a largely intact area of tropical rainforest, home to indigenous people popularly referred to as Pygmies. It will cross most of Cameroon’s major river systems, potentially polluting water sources. The offshore loading facility, from which millions of barrels of oil will be transferred to tankers, is a single-hulled vessel, which poses the serious risk of a catastrophic spill. The Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska involved a single-hulled vessel.