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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 August 2006, 00:13 GMT 01:13 UK
Oil wealth fails Chadian villagers
By Stephanie Hancock
Ngalaba, southern Chad

A Chadian boy grazes a cow near an oil field
Pylons criss-cross the landscape carrying power to the oil wells
Giant electricity pylons and the glow of gas flares dominate the landscape in southern Chad, but people living admidst the oil fields do not receive any of the power in their villages.

It makes for an unusual sight: the very best of modern industrial technology alongside a village people whose lifestyle has barely changed in centuries.

Although cattle still roam freely and the fields remain lush and green, villages like Ngalaba have become known as a "village enclave" - a community totally surrounded by oil wells.

Village chief Tamro Mbaidjehuernan says his community has been changed by Chad's oil project - but only for the worse.

"They took a lot of our fields to make room for the oil installation," explains Mr Mbaidjehuernan.

"We received compensation, but it wasn't very much. We used to cultivate peanuts, sorghum, maize and millet. But now we can hardly grow anything - there's just not the room."

Curfew

Esso, the US company which operates the 1,070 km (664-mile) pipeline that runs from Chad through Cameroon to the coast, says it paid villagers market rates for their land, built a school in the village as compensation, and also donated a well.

Djinodji August, chief of Maikeri village
They said this project would bring us happiness. But from where I'm sitting, it's going from bad to worse
Chief Djinodji August

But as a row over Chad's oil revenues intensifies in the capital, people in Doba Basin remain disillusioned with the project that began pumping oil three years ago.

A few minutes walk from Ngalaba lies the village of Maikeri, another "village enclave", where Chief Djinodji August says the project has proved a false dawn.

"They said this project would bring us happiness. But from where I'm sitting, it's going from bad to worse. There have been a lot of false promises."

The chief's son, Bendoh, also complains about a night-time curfew in their region, put in place by the local government after a spate of thefts at nearby oil facilities.

"This curfew has installed a climate of fear," says Bendoh. "If people go to their fields or want to visit a friend, they are scared of seeing a gendarme as he will make trouble for them.

"Even if you are transporting a sick person to a clinic - as there is none in our area - they will search you, ask you questions and sometimes take your money."

Stadium

When the World Bank supported Chad's bid to start pumping oil, it insisted on setting up a group called the 5% Committee - which allocates extra oil revenues to the oil-producing region.

Map
How can we build a stadium when there are people who don't even have clean drinking water?
Urbain Moyombaye
Development worker

But despite being set up 18 months ago, the committee has yet to finish a single project.

Urbain Moyombaye, a local development worker who himself lives just kilometres from an oil field, says villagers' lives have not improved with the oil project.

"We have not seen any concrete positive impact for the local population," says Mr Moyombaye.

"There is nothing. Go to any village - I say any village - in the Doba Basin and there is nothing. Not a single thing has been built with oil revenue money."

However, some oil money is being spent in the region.

In nearby Doba town, the capital of this oil-producing region, work is starting on a brand new $5m football stadium.

But the stadium was not approved by the 5% Committee - instead, it is being built on the direct orders of Chad's president, Idriss Deby.

Waiting game

It is exactly the type of unilateral decision the World Bank was hoping this project could avoid.

School with roof blown off
Pierre Djasro is not hopeful that his school roof will be replaced soon

"All these projects are being decided by 'derogation'," says Mr Moyombaye.

"Normally, before starting projects, the committee should ask local people what they want.

"How can we build a stadium when there are people who don't even have clean drinking water?"

Pierre Djasro is one of the nine members of the 5% Committee, and is also village chief of Miandoum village.

The roof of his village school was recently ripped off in a heavy storm, but even he admits this is unlikely to be fixed any time soon.

"I've formally asked the 5% Committee to come and have a look," said Mr Djasro, who adds that the school is so overcrowded many pupils study outdoors.

"They said they'd come a week ago but they haven't come. Even today they promised me a visit, but they've not arrived."

Corruption

While it is clear there is little respect for proper procedure, many people believe there is another reason why the oil cash is not getting through.

Oil installation in southern Chad
Miandoum oil field is visible from Ngalaba village

"The real problem in Chad is not lack of resources - it's corruption," says Arnaud Ngarmian, member of a civil society which monitors Chad's oil project.

"The World Bank agreed to finance this project to help reduce poverty, but the way oil revenues are being managed, this will never happen," he says.

"Projects are being built without due process, and the World Bank says nothing. The World Bank has a big responsibility to the Chadian people."

Chad's oil project was designed to try and lift the country out of poverty.

It was supposed to be the World Bank's flagship project, a way of making poverty - and corruption - a thing of the past.

But three years into this project, ordinary Chadians say they are still waiting for their share of the country's oil riches.


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