Commission to Address Oil Contamination in the River Basins Extended

On the 21st of June the Peruvian government granted a year long extension to the Multisectoral Commission responsible for analyzing and remediating oil contamination in the Pastaza, Tigre, Corrientes and Marañon river basins of the Loreto region of northern Peruvian Amazonia.

The commission was established last summer, June of 2012, in response to a week of peaceful protests organized in the Pastaza region by Quechua leaders, along with other indigenous peoples from the four river basins-including Kokama-Kokamilla, Candoshi, and Achuar- and their allies. The Commission is tasked with creating a comprehensive program to address the health consequences of the contamination.

Since oil drilling in Loreto began in 1971, the indigenous people of this Amazon region have suffered the damage wreaked by serial oil spills–contaminated soil and vegetation, death of wildlife, unsafe drinking water, and illness. For forty years the Peruvian government had failed to respond to the indigenous peoples’ cries of alarm. Then, last June, Quechua leaders organized the watershed mobilization that resulted in President Ollanta Humala’s administration dispatching Multisectoral Commission N°200-2012-PCM to the Pastaza to take water and soil samples of the area for the first time.

Results of the Commission’s analysis in the Pastaza scientifically proved what the Quechua and Achuar who live in the river basin have witnessed and denounced for years: high levels of contamination in the soil and water due to oil activity in the region. Reports issued by the Agency for Assessment and Environmental Control (OEFA), the National Water Authority (ANA), and the National Health Authority (DIGESA) revealed dangerously high levels of heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, and aluminum; TPH (total petroleum hydrocarbons) levels in two creeks exceeded by 222 to 382 times the national standards for water quality. Exposure to TPH and heavy metals severely impacts human health; consequences include reduced growth and development, cancer, organ damage, nervous system damage, and death.

Following the publication of the results, FEDIQUEP and scores of indigenous people from the Pastaza urged the government to declare an environmental state of emergency. On March 25th the state passed legislation making Peru’s environmental state of emergency official. The legislation orders the government to take urgent action to “reduce the risk to human health and to the environment in the zones affected by human activities in the Pastaza River basin.”

The Commission is presently conducting tests in the Upper Tigres River basin, and is due to enter the Marañon River basin within the next month.

With the deadline for the Commission’s activities nearing, on May 7th, the Apus (community leaders) from the indigenous federations FEDIQUEP, FECONACO, FECONAT, and ACODECOSPAT convened at the offices of the Prime Minister to request an extension for the fixed term of the Commission.

Supreme Resolution No. 212-2013-PCM extends the deadline for the Commission’s work until July 13, 2014. The text reads: “Due to the complexity of the problems identified, for the Commission to complete its work it is necessary to extend the term of the Commission for an additional year. This extension will allow the Commission to carry out the measures proposed, which are necessary in order to address the social and environmental demands of the populations of the above basins.” As Loreto’s major news source, La Region, reports, the resolution also expands the project to include the Regional Government of Loreto (GOREL), granting GOREL a role in advising the Commission during the coming year.

Deborah Rivett, Wednesday, 17 July 2013

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