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Building community relations in Iraq

BP has a long history of involvement in Iraq’s oil and gas industry, which dates back to the first discovery of oil near Kirkuk more than 90 years ago

Today, we are working in a consortium with Iraq’s South Oil Company and other partners in the re-development and modernization of the Rumaila oilfield in southern Iraq which was discovered in 1953. The field is a major contributor to Iraq’s national economy.

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The work to boost production at Rumaila includes injecting and recycling industrial grade water into the oil reservoir to improve oil flow and recovery. This involved the updating and expanding of a water treatment plant at Qarmat Ali?– a rural area adjacent to the oil field.

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The area is home to a range of tribal people, many of whom were displaced by the draining of the Iraqi marshes in the 1990s. Given their experience of forced resettlement, social marginalization, and the insecurities of land-ownership, the community is understandably wary of outsiders and has in the past used force to express concerns. The construction project was on occasion shut-down on safety reasons.

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Establishing a social contract

Together with our partners, we commissioned a charitable foundation to help provide us with a deeper understanding of the local context and needs of the community. The foundation has 20 years of experience of supporting vulnerable populations in Southern Iraq and its local staff had the expertise and credibility to conduct outreach and research among the community.

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From their work, the consortium gained a robust understanding of the community structure, organization and decision-making processes. We identified local stakeholder groups and individuals that are directly and indirectly impacted by our operations. We also obtained data on relevant social and socioeconomic issues and we identified common issues and aspirations for the community that could form the basis of a social contract.

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With this information, the consortium’s primary goal was to respond proactively to community expectations for social investment while addressing the social impacts of operations and avoiding past problems arising from violence and threats. Following discussions with the Iraqi Minister of Oil and Governor of Basra, a community committee was established with representatives from the government, civil society and the consortium itself. The committee set itself three principal targets:

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  • Agreeing a multi-stakeholder process to determine and implement community projects to create shared value for both the community and the business.
  • Identifying and developing a range of community projects with measurable long-term benefits and positive social change.
  • Gaining a pledge from local sheikhs to use the committee as a forum to resolve all future grievances.

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Following intensive negotiations, the consortium brokered an agreement with the local sheikhs which allowed a return to work at the water plant. We then facilitated a large stakeholder conference to build relationships and allow local leaders to share their vision of development. Roles were agreed, performance goals set and monitoring and reporting systems established.

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By developing a multi-stakeholder process to identify community projects, the community committee could work together to agree what could be realistically achieved. This negotiated process means that when community expectations are misaligned, the framework is available to help reach agreement.

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Community-driven development

The community committee identified and delivered a range of projects which include healthcare, education, drinking water, road infrastructure and gender equality.

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For example, upgrading a road to Qarmat Ali has greatly improved transport links for local people and reduced road traffic accidents. Constructing new water pumping and pipeline facilities has brought fresh water to some 1,000 households. A newly constructed health clinic now serves the wider community and the empowering of women as community health advocates has enabled 40,000 household visits to be made to support healthier lifestyles across the community.

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In an area where one in five people are unemployed, several schemes have been introduced including literacy training, vocation skills training and work placements. A community training centre for women is creating incomes through entrepreneurs’ crafts and other opportunities.

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Since establishing the community committee, the consortium’s social license to operate has been strengthened, and the community now has a central voice in its’ long-term development. As a consequence of this approach, there have been no significant community disturbances or work stoppages arising from work at the industrial water treatment plant.

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The consortium has done an exceptional job improving the lives of the people in Qarmat Ali. They have set an example for other companies to follow who are operating in Iraq and around the region.
Ali Shaddad Al-Fares Al-Jorani,Basra Provincial Council, Oil & Gas Committee chairman

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