Hundreds of Peruvian elementary students walked through the streets of the Amazon port city of Iquitos Thursday, March 22, waving light-blue balloons shaped like water drops and carrying signs with slogans such as “Water is Life.”
The idea that “Water is Life” is a sentiment expressed more frequently throughout Peru these days as people in the cities start making the mental connection between water security where they live and threats from mining activities in the highlands and hydrocarbon production in the forests and tributaries of the Amazon.
The children’s march honored the 2012 World Day of Water —
an awareness campaign sponsored by the United Nation’s Food and Water Security wing since 1992. And the children, who all looked joyful like children should, shouted something about it being all of our responsibility to keep the waters clean. But while it’s true that we all bear our share of blame and share responsibility for keeping water clean, I wondered how many of the kids understood the real nature of the threat from profiteers who don’t feel the same responsibility or think much about the future as they pollute the tributaries just upstream of the Amazon River, which defines the lives and future of Iquitos’ children.
I’ve been accused of being the bearer of bad news before, but I’ll risk a little more finger pointing to cite just a few local news items from the first few months of this year to better spell things out.
Starting in the south:
- This week, AIDESEP, the largest indigenous federation of the Peruvian Amazon representing most of its officially recognized native communities, announced another spill of liquid natural gas (LNG) from the Camisea project affecting three tributaries of the upper Urubamba River, which joins with the Ucayáli to become the main trunk of the Amazon River proper. The spill, one of many since production began in 2004, occurred near the communal reserve of the Machiguenga indigenous people, where monitors have recorded ecological damage from the most recent March 14 incident.
- In January the Marañon River, the main easterly flowing river in the region which becomes the Amazon proper near Iquitos, suffered another series of crude oil spills by Argentinian oil company PlusPetrol, which also heads the consortium responsible for production in the Camisea gas fields mentioned above. Frequent spills by PlusPetrol in 2010, 2011 and early this year threaten tens of thousands of indigenous communities on the lower Maranon.
- After 40-years of steady oil production in the Corrientes River watershed to the north, 99 cent of the indigenous Achuar population who have been tested show unsafe blood levels of cadmium, a “highly toxic and carcinogenic heavy metal associated with oil exploitation,” according to reports. The struggles to keep the Corrientes clean mount as the Canadian company Talisman Energy begins operations that will affect the Corrientes, Morona and Pastaza Rivers against objections from indigenous peoples who have lived there for hundreds – some thousands – of years.
- On March 9, FECONAT, a federation representing 19 mostly Kichwa indigenous communities on the Rio Tigre, filed a petition with the Regional Government of Loreto to declare a state of emergency on the Tigre due to cumulative and ongoing oil contamination from PlusPetrol .
- And on March 17, the Anglo-French firm Perenco reported to regional government officials on its new construction on projects to start full-scale drilling soon on the upper Marañon watershed, where it plans to pump some 60,000 barrels a day for the next 20 years, affecting the Napo, Curaray and Arebela rivers upstream of the Amazon (“PERENCO presentó proyecto de lote 67 producirá 60 mil barriles diarios de petróleo.” La Región; 17 March, 2012; p. 3).
All of this recent news comes on the heels of announcements in February that a U.S.-Canadian consortium led by American driller ConocoPhillips plans to tap seven exploratory wells in its 10.5 million-acre mega block upstream near the headwaters of the Nanay River – which supplies the drinking water to the nearly half-million residents of Iquitos.
As the children of Iquitos march in the streets to remind the adults of what’s at stake, it’s a good time to listen the next generation and reflect on what we can to change our course on water.
Saturday, 24 March 2012