Indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon have suffered from two oil spills in two months.
The spills are all attributed to State oil company PetroPerú, which has failed to conduct routine maintenance on its pipelines. One spill released at least 2,000 barrels of oil, which spread into the local rivers, affecting indigenous communities that include the Achuar, Shapra, Wampis and Awajún.
The spills have destroyed the ecosystem, compromising the health, food and safety of local communities. Locals have lost their livelihoods and are no longer able to drink water from the rivers or fish for food.
Whilst the cleanup is the responsibility of PetroPerú, both the company and the government have been slow to react. Communities have resorted to trying to clean up the toxic oil themselves. Shocking images reveal that children, without protection, have been involved in this dangerous process.
This environmental disaster is just the latest in a long history of oil and gas leaks in the area. More than 70% of the Peruvian Amazon has been leased by the government to oil companies. Many of these leases are inhabited by indigenous people. These projects not only open up previously remote areas to outsiders, such as loggers and colonists, but destroy the ecosystem for indigenous peoples.
The national indigenous peoples’ organisation, AIDESEP, has denounced the oil spills. Criticising the slow action of the government, the organisation called on “international public opinion, the media, NGOs and civil society to pay attention to this serious event that puts in danger the lives of thousands of people living in the area who have traditionally been neglected”.