Another Environmental State of Emergency in the Amazon

Following the release of evidence proving high levels of oil activity related contaminants in the Upper Tigres river basin in the Loreto region of the Peruvian Amazon some weeks ago, Peru’s Ministry of the Environment (MINAM) has now declared an environmental state of emergency in the river basin. 

Earlier this year, a government appointed multisectoral commission of environmental experts entered the river basin to collect water and soil samples from the oil concession known as Block 1 AB. The commission revealed alarming levels of heavy metals and TPH (Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons). Block 1 AB overlaps indigenous Kichwa territory and since the 1970s has been the site of extensive oil extraction-it is currently the domain of Argentine oil giant Pluspetrol Norte, which took over from its predecessor Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) in 2000. The environmental state of emergency in the Upper Tigre river basin was officially declared on November 30th, 2013. The environmental state of emergency, called for a duration of 90 days, is a ministerial resolution that approves and prescribes an action plan for immediate attention to the most pressing social and environmental issues in the river basin; including the provision of clean drinking water for the population and to reduce human health risks related to the pollution.

This is the third in a series of environmental states of emergencies involving oil lot 1 AB that MINAM has declared this year in the Loreto region of the Peruvian Amazon. When the same multisectoral commission released results of testing from the Pastaza river basin at the beginning of 2013, the levels of lead, barium, arsenic, and TPH were so high that the Federation of Indigenous Quechua of the Pastaza (FEDIQUEP) successfully urged MINAM to declare an environmental state of emergency in response.

The environmental state of emergency made international news and brought attention to the devastating situation of the indigenous people whose ancestral lands are subjected to oil activity. Then, in August, a state of emergency was declared in the Corrientes river basin, after testing revealed a similar situation. While the unprecedented attention that these declarations have garnered has been important, the indigenous leaders of the federations representing native communities of the river basins say the government has not advanced with plans to improve the social and environmental conditions under which they live.

Deborah Rivett, Friday, 06 December 2013