Headline: Social Setbacks as Big Oil Expands Pipelines
WASHINGTON, Sep 29 (IPS) – Predominantly foreign male workers who relocated to build massive oil and gas projects, combined with feeble gender policies, have brought and greater burdens for local communities around those projects, new research finds.
This array of problems was found at two of the world’s largest pipeline projects, the 3.2-billion-dollar Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) and Russia’s 20-billion-dollar Sakhalin II.
Both projects are run by international oil giants and funded in part by multilateral public banks that are dominated by energy-thirsty industrialised nations.
The World Bank’s arm that lends to the private sector, the International Finance Corporation, has backed both projects. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has backed the BTC project with a 250-million-dollar public loan. It is poised to make a final funding decision on the highly controversial Sakhalin II project.
Shell is leading the consortium running Sakhalin II in Russia, while oil giant British Petroleum is constructing the BTC pipeline to transfer oil from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean.
The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline will run 1,100 miles, from the Sangachal terminal near Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, through Georgia and to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.
Sakhalin II aims to extract oil and gas from beneath the coast of far eastern Russia’s Sakhalin Island. Production is due to start in 2008 with 60 percent going to the Japanese market.
The report, “Boom time blues: Big oil’s gender impacts in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Sakhalin”, argues that the projects have brought an increased social burden and poverty for local communities, and particularly women, as a workforce of mostly foreign male workers settles in those areas.
Shell and BP’s mega-projects have also lead to environmental degradation, land loss and damaged communal infrastructure, according to the report by CEE Bankwatch Network and the Washington-based Gender Action.
The report is based on CEE Bankwatch Network’s fact-finding missions to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Sakhalin earlier this year, an analysis of existing accounts from local non-governmental organisations and activist groups, and Gender Action’s survey questionnaire and gender assessment of both projects’ extensive documentation.
In the case of the Russian project, the groups say it has brought considerably fewer employment opportunities to local women than originally promised, with catering and cleaning accounting for most jobs.
Working conditions for women employed in cleaning and catering are often viewed by locals as unacceptable as they entail very long hours, which decrease the time for their family responsibilities and personal activities.
Because many of the workers in the project come from “exotic” countries, they have brought “exotic” diseases with them, such as tuberculosis, which were not found in the area in the past, the report finds.
It says that local women were both embarrassed and alarmed about the indications of increased prostitution, and have experienced sexual harassment and crime as a result of contact between the pipeline workers and resident populations.
“Again and again on Sakhalin Island, I heard strong discontent about Shell’s behaviour towards the local environment and the harsh effects of the project on Sakhalin’s social fabric,” said Fidanka Bacheva-McGrath of the Czech Republic CEE Bankwatch Network, who conducted research for the report on Sakhalin Island.
Calls for comment from British Petroleum and the EBRD were not returned. The IFC said it was considering a response, but did not answer questions from IPS by Friday.
According to the report, the BTC project didn’t fare much better.
“Despite the pledges of the project sponsors and lenders, it has failed to increase women’s access to natural resources and improved infrastructure, has not provided employment and permanent income, nor has it empowered women to participate in decision-making,” it said.
The report finds that women’s rights, trafficking and the spread of HIV/AIDS have been major concerns for local communities near the BTC pipeline. It relays statements from the police chief of one of the regions around BTC as saying that the increased narcotics trade and spread of AIDS is directly connected with prostitution due to the pipeline’s construction.
During the construction of the pipeline, there were an increased number of foreigners as well as workers from other regions within the country, bringing the development of related businesses such as restaurants and hotels. As a result, the amount of drug use, prostitution and alcohol consumption increased.
The groups behind the report held it up as further evidence that the institutions backing the projects should either stop bankrolling them or insist on much tougher social and environmental standards, something the companies involved have resisted because of the added costs of stronger environmental measures.
“Both the EBRD and the IFC have turned a blind eye to the increased prostitution, human trafficking and HIV/AIDS that the BTC and Sakhalin II pipeline projects generate,” said Elaine Zuckerman of Gender Action.
Zuckerman says that public lenders should take steps to curb abuse of women and integrate better gender protections in their lending safeguards.
“What we are saying is that they need to create and, of course more importantly, implement policies to prevent the kind of gender impacts that large investments that they are making have,” she told IPS.
“On one hand they have these small projects that claim to be financing health care services and on the other hand, there are big bucks projects, like the pipelines, that in fact undermine their own poverty reduction and health services goals,” she added. Those lenders have no rules to recognise the rights of women by ensuring that social management, community development, and consultations reach out to women and protect them from gender-based human rights violations, the report says.
Critics say such big projects have traditionally brought limited and short-term employment opportunities, and often fail to provide promised support for local communities or to help alleviate poverty. (END/2006)