For Water, for Life: A March in Iquitos against Oil

Between 1000-2000 people took to the streets of Iquitos on Wednesday, on the International Day of the Environment. Students, indigenous people, interest groups, school children, mothers, and many more, heeded a call by the Iquitos Water Committee to march for the safeguarding of Iquitos’ main drinking water source: the Nanay River.

The headwaters of the Nanay overlap with oil concessions that the government has handed out to various companies. Last year, after significant pressure from NGOs, local residents, and indigenous groups, Conoco Phillips withdrew from their concession, but only to hand it over to Gran Tierra Energy. Gran Tierra is now in the exploration phase—and has already begun seismic testing, which has already caused negative environmental impacts.

Iquitos is the largest city in the department of Loreto, in northern Peru. There has been oil exploitation in Loreto for over 40 years. Some of its devastating effects on the environment and local people are now surfacing, and gaining increasing awareness from the public and Peruvian government. Indigenous peoples have tried to call attention to the contamination for decades, without being heard.

Recent water and soil tests have proven unprecedented levels of contamination in the Pastaza basin, causing the government to call an environmental state of emergency in this region. Just a few days ago, a major oil spill took place in Ecuador, along a major oil pipeline. An estimated 10,000 barrels of crude oil leaked into a local river. A “black carpet” up to 200km long is now on its way down the Napo river and recently crossed into Peru. In a few days, if not halted, it will flow into the Amazon river—an ecological disaster.

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The local population of Iquitos is increasingly aware of the risk oil exploitation poses, and the Water Committee, a grassroots coalition of which Alianza Arkana is an active member, has thus, since 2011, called for a moratorium of oil drilling in the Nanay. Similar ecological disasters on the Nanay would put at risk the lives of over half a million inhabitants of Iquitos, not to mention the indigenous groups that live near the headwaters. Yesterday, once again, the population of Iquitos expressed their awareness, fear, and determination to prevent such a development.

Stefan Kistler,  Friday, 07 June 2013

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