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CAMEROON: Frustrations Grow in Cameroon over Oil Pipeline

Reuters
November 18th, 2005

Oil was meant to bring hope and money to this sleepy fishing town
in Cameroon, but Kribi's residents say they can barely make ends meet.


The terminus for a 1,070-km (665-mile) pipeline bringing oil from
landlocked Chad to Cameroon, Kribi was full of expectations that wealth
would trickle down from the $4 billion venture -- one of Africa's biggest
infrastructure projects.

Instead, Kribi's fishermen say a reef was destroyed during the
construction of an offshore facility three years ago and this has
endangered their livelihoods. Their complaints echo those heard from
others living along the Doba pipeline route.

"These people only cared about their pipeline and the money they will make
from it, they cared little about us," said Agathe Mbedi, who sells fish at
Kribi's market.

"They destroyed the rock that shielded the water in which fish used to
breed. They promised to replace it, but have done nothing. Our men are
earning less money, our children are out of school and we risk starving."

The World Bank, which funded the venture, helped set up what it calls
unprecedented safeguards to manage earnings from the pipeline, which is
operated by a US-led consortium and promised revenues of $500 million for
Cameroon.

The venture, led by Exxon Mobil Corp., had been viewed by many rights
activists as a test case of whether petrodollars can fight poverty in
Africa instead of fuelling conflict and corruption.

But criticism has been growing. Local rights campaigners say the new
wealth is simply enriching foreign firms and political elites in one of
the world's poorest regions.


"PICTURE OF DESPAIR"

Several countries along West Africa's coastline are hoping to find oil and
cash in on world demand for alternative sources of crude to supplement the
volatile Middle East.

The United States hopes a quarter of its oil imports in a decade will come
from West Africa, up from 14 percent now.

But grinding poverty in oil producers like Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea
show that petrodollars often do not translate into a better life for local
people -- and Kribi's experience shows oil can even complicate existing
hard lives.

Oscar Ada points to a 7-metre wide pool in his garden in the village of
Ekabita-Mendum near Yaounde.

"At first we didn't have this lake here," he said. "But (the Cameroon Oil
Transportation Company) COTCO came here and constructed its pipeline and
left behind a mountain of soil that directs rain off into my yard."

He says breeding mosquitoes prevent his family from sleeping at night and
the water has damaged his 50 cocoa trees.

Once luscious green, the brown-grey leaves are now withered. Dried or
rotten cocoa pods hang from some of them.

The pipeline began pumping oil in 2003. Production was averaging about
180,000 barrels of crude per day by mid-2005, according to the project's
Web site.

Cameroonian environmental and rights organisations say they have
documented about 400 cases where people have been affected by the project
but have not been adequately compensated.

Amnesty International has said the pipeline is side-stepping human rights
safeguards for local inhabitants.

Celestine Mbouma's husband's cocoa plantation was damaged when the
pipeline was built, cutting production from 20 bags to just three per
year. Mbouma, a mother of 12, now fears she will no longer be able to pay
for her children to go to school.

"I was very determined to do everything to ensure that my children get a
good education ... But ... now, I don't know whether they will have to
abandon school ... Please, tell those people to do something for us or we
will all die," she said.

In Mbouma's village, a water source that was destroyed during the
construction has yet to be replaced. Residents say the water is
contaminated and people have fallen ill, while children trek 8 km (5
miles) to get fresh supplies.

"People have paid a hefty price for having the pipeline pass near their
homes and fields," said Korinna Horta, a senior environmental economist at
the US non governmental organisation Environmental Defense.

"What I have seen is a picture of despair and profound injustice felt by
local people."


WANTING COMPENSATION


Bissabidang, a 69-year old farmer from the Makoure region in southern
Cameroon, says he received just 350,000 CFA francs ($630) for his felled
ebony trees -- valued by local forestry officials at up to 8.5 million CFA
($15,000) for their timber.

"Because of this derisory compensation, my family has been impoverished by
this pipeline project for many years to come."

COTCO has promised compensation for Kribi's destroyed reef but fishermen
at Bwambe beach say only 70 nets were provided for 2,000 fishermen. They
say they have to go further out now and their small canoes and nets cannot
withstand the rough waves.

In Chad, the government has said it plans to change a law meant to
safeguard oil profits for future generations, despite objections from the
World Bank which has threatened to withdraw from the investment and halt
lending to Chad.

Samuel Nguifoo, head of Cameroon's Centre for Environment and Development,
said the pipeline had already proved a failure.

"Beyond the attendant credit and self-satisfaction, the Chad-Cameroon
pipeline project has brought about more tears than smiles," he said.



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