(WOMENSENEWS)–When multinational oil companies first visited towns along the proposed routes for two new pipelines in Russia and the Caucasus they promised to create jobs, build schools and hospitals, and invest in small businesses.
What the local communities got instead was a large population of migrant men and an increase in pollution, disease, sex trafficking, poverty and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV-AIDS, along the pipeline routes, with women carrying the brunt of the burden, according to a study by two nongovernmental organizations.
The groups came to these conclusions after visiting the affected communities in April 2006 and analyzing thousands of pages of documents relating to the roughly four-year construction period of the $3.2 billion Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and the $20 billion Sakhalin II pipeline.
The Caucasus pipeline, which began flowing in May 2006 through Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, is expected to transport 1 million barrels of crude oil daily from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean for the European market when it reaches full capacity.
The Sakhalin II, on Russia’s Sakhalin Island, north of Japan in the Okhotsk Sea, aims to transport 340,000 barrels of oil equivalent daily. Production is anticipated to begin in 2008, with 60 percent of the oil and gas going to Japan.
The groups that authored the report are the Washington-based Gender Action and the Central and Eastern European Bankwatch Network, a coalition of environmental organizations headquartered in Prague, the Czech Republic. They are calling on the public aid banks that partially financed the pipelines–the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s corporate lending arm–to adopt more stringent measures to protect local women for future projects.
Projects Under Scrutiny
The environmental and social impact of development projects backed by these institutions will come under further scrutiny in Nairobi, Kenya, at the World Social Forum, which starts Jan. 20. The forum is an annual gathering of activists opposed to the theory that market forces unrestricted by government offer the best path to global development.
Gender Action won’t be attending the World Social Forum because of budgetary constraints, but members say they have been working with many of the groups who will be present to raise awareness of how women in particular are affected by aid banks such as the World Bank.
Established in 1944 as part of the United Nations system, the World Bank is run by governments and uses public funds to alleviate poverty and promote development.
The Caucasus and Sakhalin pipeline backers claimed that the projects would help eradicate poverty by promoting business development and democratization. The gross domestic products for Georgia and Azerbaijan–where the pipeline runs–grew in 2005 by 7 percent and 19.7 percent.
British Petroleum’s pipeline received a $250 million public loan in 2003 from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, as well as another $250 million from the International Finance Corporation. The European Bank also provided support to a consortium led by Royal Dutch Shell that was running the first phase of the Sakhalin II project.
The Gender Action and CEE Bankwatch study, released in September, found that most of the jobs created by the two projects went to foreign migrant workers, predominantly young men from countries such as Turkey, Uzbekistan and the Philippines. Moreover, most of the new businesses that have sprung up along the pipelines are restaurants and hotels, which will have a hard time staying in business once the projects are complete and the migrant workers leave.
Few Jobs for Women
The local women that Gender Action and CEE Bankwatch talked with reported very few employment opportunities. The pipeline jobs available to them are mostly cleaning and cooking, and even these opportunities are so scarce that women in Georgia have had to pay bribes to get them. When they do get these jobs, they are offered short-term contracts. In Azerbaijan, some women work 12 to 14 hours a day without holidays for one to three months at a time.
At the same time, environmental degradation has threatened traditional subsistence farming and fishing, and, according to the local people interviewed, worsened respiratory illnesses.
“The World Bank and the other international financial institutions make promises all the time to protect vulnerable populations, to reduce poverty and to prevent HIV-AIDS, which they don’t keep,” said Elaine Zuckerman, president of Gender Action. “As public, taxpayer-funded institutions, they should be held accountable to the citizens of the world.”
The Caucasus pipeline, where both the International Finance Corporation and the European Bank are involved, “shows that both financial institutions lack effective social safeguards and indeed both have failed in gender mainstreaming,” said Fidanka Bacheva-McGrath, the CEE Bankwatch coordinator for Southeastern Europe.
Michaela Bergman, principal environmental specialist for the European Bank, told Women’s eNews that there are no statistics tying prostitution to the pipelines. “In Georgia, for example, the route of the pipeline is the route that lorries take to go to Turkey and there has always been a population of sex workers,” she said.
Gender Action’s Zuckerman, though, says that while prostitution existed before the pipeline project, it has increased and is now reported in areas near the pipeline construction and far from the international road where there were no sex workers previously.
Planning Process Shut Out Women
The study found that neither the oil companies nor the multilateral banks made sure that women were included in their consultations with local communities in order to identify and mitigate any potential negative consequences for community members.
According to Bergman, projects financed by the European Bank are screened for working conditions, resettlement and their impact on cultural heritage and indigenous people. However, there is no specific gender policy, and the current environmental policy–which is due to be revised in 2007–does not mention women or gender.
“We will consider how to better address gender issues during the policy review process,” said Bergman.
The European Bank commissioned a study last year to assess the potential for gender mainstreaming–or the consideration of women in all phases of decision-making–within the institution, but no decision has been made yet on how to follow up.
In September the World Bank announced a new four-year, $24.5 million gender action plan, which seeks to increase the resources devoted to gender issues in the World Bank and International Finance Corporation’s lending operations for infrastructure, finance, private-sector development and agriculture projects.
“It’s become clear that while gender mainstreaming has been successful in social sectors such as education and health, it’s lagging in the economic sectors,” said Mayra Buvinic, the World Bank’s gender sector manager.
Additionally, the World Bank will test on-the-ground initiatives that aim to strengthen women’s economic enterprises by giving them greater access to low-cost energy resources, formal financial services and training programs. If shown to be effective, these programs will then be scaled up.
Bojana Stoparic is a freelance writer based in New York.
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For more information:
Gender Action, “Boom Time Blues: Big Oil’s Gender Impacts in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Sakhalin”
Gender Guide to World Bank and IMF Policy-Based Lending
World Bank: Empowering Women, Boosting Economies:
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