Building a pipeline from remote oilfields in Chad through Cameroon’s rainforest was just the right challenge for the World Bank’s ambitious approach. The multi-billion dollar project – the largest investment on the African continent – involved numerous oil companies and financiers from around the world. An innovative benefit-sharing mechanism and an environmental panel of experts were created to ensure that the pipeline would raise the living standards of the poor in a sustainable way. When it was approved in 2000, the US government called the project a “prism” through which the world would view the World Bank and its approach to development.
Fast forward to 2009. The pipeline has been built, and the oil has begun to flow. Fueled by the new revenues, Chad’s military budget has grown more than 20-fold, civil unrest and corruption have soared, and the benefit-sharing scheme has unraveled. Infant, child and maternal mortality are rising. Oil has once again become the devil’s excrement for a poor African nation. Meanwhile, a part of the forestry reserve that was supposed to offset the pipeline’s ecological footprint in Cameroon is being flooded by a reservoir – courtesy of the World Bank.
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