Last week over 1000 indigenous people from a major tributary of the Amazon river gathered for a meeting in the northern Peruvian Amazon to hear about the government test results of oil contamination in their territory. The findings showed worrying levels of contamination posing a direct health risk to the local people.
Over the course of two days (February 19-20), the assembly of the indigenous Kukama Kukamilla people concluded with a list of ten demands for the government, and a declaration that the Kukama people are in a state of “permanent mobilization” until their demands are effectively addressed.
Those participating represented 70 communities from the Marañon river, two indigenous federations – ACODECOSPAT and AIDECOS – as well as the Kukama women’s organization Waynakana Kamatawarakana.
The state agencies presented the results to the assembly in Dos de Mayo (northern Peruvian Amazon) as part of a larger investigation into environmental contamination from decades of oil activities in four major river basins in the Northern Peruvian Amazon. The agencies (OEFA, ANA, DIGESA, OSINERGMIN and SERNANP) work under the coordination of the Ministry of Environment as part of a multi-sectoral commission formed in July 2012.
Historic assembly learns of severe contamination
In September of last year, the government agencies conducted water, soil and sediment testing in an around the oil lot 8X, which is situated in the largest national reserve in Peru and in the territory of the Kukama Kukamilla people
Among other details, the local participants learned from the commission that:
- No clean drinking water is available to any of the 17 tested communities;
- Some drinking water sources contain heavily toxic elements such as Arsenic, Chrome, and Lead in quantities far exceeding Peruvian environmental standards;
- The surrounding flora and fauna of the lot 8X in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve are heavily affected by hydrocarbons and heavy metals. This area is traditional hunting and fishing grounds for the Kukama communities, therefore affecting them directly.
Demanding justice and respect for life
In the face of these alarming realities, the indigenous assembly presented a list of strong demands. The final declaration (see declaration in Spanish) states that the Kukama Kukamilla people will be in “permanent mobilization” until their mandates for environmental and social justice are effectively met. Specifically, they demand that the government:
- Declare a social and environmental emergency for the affected zone and bring about rapid interventions.
- Shut down the oil pipeline connecting the oil Lot 8X with the oil installations in Saramuro on the Marañon River on a temporary basis until the 40 year old pipes – the origin of recurrent heavy oil spills – are entirely replaced with new ones.
- Conduct toxicological studies of fish and analyze blood and hair samples of the local population to investigate the direct effects of the contamination on people’s health.
The assembly furthermore expressed their approval of the legal actions initiated by various government bodies and non-governmental allies of the indigenous federations against Pluspetrol – the Argentian oil company currently operating the concession 8X.
A Visit to Oil Lot 8X
In the immediate aftermath of the assembly, two indigenous environmental monitors guided a small team from Alianza Arkana, including a professional photographer, to inspect the aforementioned pipeline, where oil contamination is evident.
The team was able to gather photographic evidence of contamination, including from a large oil spill discovered in June 2013, documented by the monitors in July, and evidence released by ACODECOSPAT to the national and international press in September last year. Crude oil still openly stains the fragile wetlands of the Reserve, and the dimensions of the oil spill seem to have increased significantly.
According to local people and indigenous environmental monitors, another spill in exactly the same area happened later in 2013. Despite photographic evidence and other documentation supporting these claims, Peruvian authorities continue to deny that other spills have happened at this site.
Pluspetrol has deforested a large area around the oil spill, where unapproved work is being carried out by contractors for the company. No activity has been approved by any competent authority. The Peruvian Service for Protected Areas (SERNANP) has declared administrative sanctions against the company for unlawful deforestation.
Meanwhile, indigenous residents are waiting for action. Fed up with empty promises, they are now taking bold action with their declaration of “Permanent Mobilization” until their demands for justice are met.