By the end of this year, hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil will flow through pipelines in Chad and Cameroon, bringing about $2.5 billion and $500 million to the two countries, respectively. But critics say those profits won’t help the region’s poorest and neediest, even though the project’s major players — an ExxonMobil-led oil consortium, the World Bank, and the U.S. government — originally pledged to set a new standard for socially responsible energy projects in developing nations. The reality, though, is that the jobs created by the pipeline project are largely temporary, the promised social programs have failed to materialize, and the profits are likely to be pocketed by government officials. (Chad and Cameroon rank as two of the most corrupt African states.) Moreover, the project could bring disastrous environmental consequences, especially in Cameroon’s lush tropical rainforests. Meanwhile, hundreds of Africans hoping for work have congregated in shantytowns along the length of the pipeline, creating conditions that could lead to the rapid spread of HIV. Health officials anticipated the problem and the oil consortium promised to take steps to prevent it, but thus far has failed to do so.

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