12 Sep 2003
The iconic image from the latest war in Iraq will undoubtedly be the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s 20ft statue in Paradise Square, on the day US marines arrived in Baghdad. But two other striking images from that conflict could have equally eloquent things to say about Iraq’s future. One is of British troops standing guard over the oil fields near Basra in the early hours of the war, while wells were burning. The other is of those same troops, days later, trying to keep order as they distributed meagre supplies of bottled water and other aid to a desperate population. The contrast between these two military exercises – in terms of resources, effort and planning – was startlingly clear. And the contrast is instructive, in a wider context, when considering the relationship between the world’s most sought-after natural resource and the people on whom it most directly impacts.
Put simply, when oil is involved the needs of ordinary people – such as the need for a secure supply of clean water – usually come a very distant second. Indeed, all available evidence indicates that the presence of oil in a developing country makes life worse, not better, for the people who live there – particularly the poorest people. That is what this report is about.
In global terms, it can be argued that oil and the oil economy are all but irrelevant to the world’s poorest people – the very people for whom Christian Aid seeks to speak – as they struggle to live their lives. They do not own cars, they often have no access to electricity and their fuel comes from animal dung or dwindling supplies of wood. Again, their greatest need is likely to be water. It can also be said that the global economy’s addiction to oil – its drug of choice – has done more.