Search for oil in Sudan causes major damage

Oct 13, 2008 02:00 AM

Entire villages have been uprooted to make way for oil firms to dig sand out of the ground for the oil roads. Millions of trees have been cut, with their proceeds not seen anywhere.
And hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced without compensation. At a hotel by the Nile, politicians and civil society representatives from oil producing regions wax indignant about the activities of oil wells in their home areas.

"What happened in Northern Upper Nile does not make sense," Gatkuoth Duop Kuich says. "People were forced off their land and everyone just watched."
Mr Kuich, a Member of Parliament from Jonglei, is the chairperson of the Land and Natural Resources Committee in the Parliament of the autonomous Southern Sudan. The oil-war, as Mr Kuich refers to the 21-year civil war that led into the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, taught the people that oil explorers value money more than human life. To be fair, oil was just a factor in that war, otherwise southern Sudanese would not be fighting the Khartoum government as early as the 1950s.

But oil was a major factor. Oil kicked off more marginalisation of the south, not less. The Jaffer Nimeiri Administration dishonoured a peace agreement signed with the rebels in 1972, and rejected returning Abyei to the south after oil was discovered there, and murdered Abyei politicians who were visiting the area, totching off an uprising in 1981.
Three years after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended the war, the people in oil producing areas are fighting on.

At this particular conference at Juba Bridge, the participants came from Abyei -- scene of a scorched earth in the north Sudan attack -- which would determine through a referendum in 2011 whether to belong to the south or the north. They come from South Kordufan and Blue Nile, which after 2011 would decide whether to belong to the south, assuming it separates, or stay with the north.
They are from Jonglei, where the oil firms are drilling in the suds, and where the population was only a year ago was exercised and divided between those supporting French oil firm Total and those backing the UK registered shell firm, White Nile.

The stories they tell are similar. In Jonglei, the mistrust by the local people when White Nile Company ventured there nearly led to a community war. White Nile, seeing its hold on oil Block B challenged, turned to the community, fanning sentiments against Total. For White Nile, that was easy to do.
During the course of the war, Total annually paid $ 1.5 mm to Khartoum to renew rights to the oil block after it suspended operations following the war. While apparently a shrewd business decision, many here see it as going to bed with the enemy.

A year after the little-known UK-registered oil firm was made to drop its challenge to Total, the anti-Total tempers have tampered off, but pockets within the community still feel short-changed.
"Total gave undisclosed amount of money to Jonglei State for community development, but we advise them to come with proper legal documents and to respect the community," Mr Kuich says. "Ascom has done nothing."

Ascom is drilling part of Block B, in Jonglei. But it's not just Ascom. A whole host of drillers and prospectors are behaving, as far as the European Commission on Oil in the Sudan sees.
"No single company has ever shown true compassion with the victims," says a report, Whose oil? by IKV Pax Christi and the European Commission on oil in Sudan. "No company has made an effort even to assess the level of suffering and destruction that has been inflicted upon these people to secure its operations."

Unity and Upper Nile, where oil drilling has gone on for years, bore the blunt of the government actions at a time the world was not looking. In Unity, White Nile Petroleum Company (WNPOC), a Petronas-led consortium arrived in Unity State in 2006. The consortium went about building a low-sulphur crude oil venture.
Two years later, the officials report at least two dozen people dead from contaminated water. And according to the European Commission on Oil in the Sudan, around Paloich, Northern Upper Nile, cases have been documented of entire villages being dug out to obtain sand for the oil roads.

"Even the ancestral graves disappeared into the new roads," says the report, released in April. "To secure the oil fields, tens of thousands of people were killed, maimed or wounded, women raped, boys and girls abducted."
According to the report, many of the displaced still live in dire circumstances, some in the desolate slums of Khartoum, others in local centres like Bentiu.
"Security in Upper Nile State is not good because the community is angry about being displaced by oil communities without compensation," says Kuich. "This is what we are seeking: We need our communities to be compensated in developmental ways -- build schools hospitals and engage in other projects."

And because a history of oil communities' empowerment is nonexistent, communication between the communities, the oil firms, and government remains weak.
"Until recently the issue of oil could not be talked about openly," Mr Deng Chulol, another MP from Jonglei, says of the state of affairs that have occurred since oil firms started operating here and ignoring the communities.

Politicians feared the oil firms. The social workers didn't want to be seen to oppose the all powerful oil firms, backed by the government machinery. The result? Oil firms got away without fulfilling obligations.
"They destroy the environment, grab land and other resources," Mr Kuich says of the oil firms.

But lawmakers from oil rich areas are saying not for long. They have formed an independent body that would regulate the activities of oil explorers in the country. The body, according to the MPs, would work according to international oil standards.
Sudan Oil Human Security Initiative would work both as a pressure group and a community representative. It would have separate certificates for northern Sudan and Southern Sudan. The plan is to make the initiative an affiliate of the National Petroleum Commission. Under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the NPC, with equal representations of the south and the north, has the final say on oil in the Sudan. The government in Khartoum relented only last year to form the body, after refusing to do so for two years, for fear of losing control, according to analysts.

Source / The Nation
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