Last week the Northern Peruvian Pipeline leaked oil into Peru’s Marañon River for the fourth time! The pipeline, that’s 40 years old, has caused at least 20 spills in the past 5 years. The pipeline was supposedly shut down after the spills in February but Petroperu was found to be “illegally pumping crude through the pipeline” during the third spill, exactly how the fourth spill happened has yet to be determined.
Indigenous communities in this heavily rainforest region depend on this river and the surrounding lands. The latest spill has affected at least 3900 residents in at least 22 communities. While the government and Petroperú have delivered clean water to affected communities much more needs to be done. The communities need, not only clean water, food, cleanup efforts, but a real commitment from PertroPeru and the state to ensure that these spills stop happening.
These communities depend on the rivers (that are now contaminated) for drinking and fishing, and use the water from the river to water their gardens. So as the spills add up, food insecurity is growing. Many of the river’s beaches have been inundated with oil.
As an indigenous father told Mongabay: “I ate food from my field after the spill, nobody told us it was dangerous, and I had nothing else to feed my children. Nobody has come to study our river, nobody has looked at the fish. How can we know if it is safe to eat? How can we feel as though the government cares about us?” To compound the problem, the food that was provided by Petroperú and the government ran out early.
The spills are making people sick, “Every day I wake up and hope the pain is not too bad for me to work. Every day I try to find a way to feed my children. We are all still alive, and we hope we will remain healthy and not get worse. It is difficult, the way we have been ignored. It feels as though the government does not care about us. It feels like we have been forgotten.”
These feelings aren’t surprising, considering previous allegations that during the last spill Petroperu hired indigenous children to clean the river for a dollar a day and didn’t provide any protective gear.
This is slowly becoming a humanitarian crisis. Sadly, when environmental disasters involve indigenous communities, states are frequently less responsive leaving indigenous communities forgotten and unsupported. This coupled with lack of significant sanctions for spills contributes to continued risk these communities are facing.
We Are One Humanity.
Indigenous people of the rainforests are on the frontline protecting our forests: they are humanitarians, putting their lives on the line to protect our rainforests (and our climate) for generations to come. The world needs to step up, and protect these rainforest defenders.