Walk the Talk: A Call for Action in the Wake of Fourth Environmental Emergency in the Peruvian Amazon

Last Saturday the lower Marañón River, one of the two major tributaries of the Amazon River itself, was declared an area of Environmental Emergency – the fourth of its kind in less than a year. This area has officially been affirmed as dangerously contaminated, posing a significant risk to human health (RM 136-2014-MINAM).

Danger: oil barrelsLast month, this same river basin was declared to be in a state of Sanitarian Emergency, with water unfit for human consumption. The Marañón has now joined the ranks with the Pastaza, Corrientes, and Tigre river basins in the Northern Peruvian Amazon as having hazardous levels of heavy metals and other contaminants which have polluted the water, soils, flora and fauna that the local inhabitants depend upon to live. This is a devastating reality for the entire Amazon – one of the world´s mightiest river basins.

Oil muck in the MarañónThe private corporations responsible for this mess are trans-national oil companies Occidental Petroleum and Pluspertol Norte- with headquarters in the USA and Argentina, respectively – who for more than 40 years have been permitted to act with impunity as they destroy the precious ecosystems in the Amazon that sustain all life here.

What is needed now is action, not just more declarations and empty promises. The Peruvian government needs to walk their talk.

Sick mother and childFor many years the indigenous organizations have been working with tremendous dedication in order to have their homelands recognized as environmental and sanitarian emergencies, and to find peaceful solutions for their people. However, they have grown skeptical of the state’s commitment to fulfilling their responsibilities in the wake of such declarations. Nearly a year after the Pastaza, Corrientes and Tigre Rivers were declared environmental emergencies no real solutions or relief have arrived for the local communities. For them, the only thing that has changed is the confirmation of the painful reality that they and their children have no choice but to drink poisonous water and eat toxic food until true relief arrives.

Sarah Kerremans, the Environmental Justice and Human Rights program coordinator for Alianza Arkana, who is providing legal assistance to the indigenous federations, explains the next steps on the ground:

FECONACO meeting to discuss environmental emergencies“The Peruvian State now wants to implement this new Multisectorial Commission called Round Table for the Development of the Pastaza, Tigre, Corrientes and Marañón Rivers. The indigenous federations FEDIQUEP, ACODECOSPAT and FECONAT are writing their own proposal for the regulation of this Multisectorial Commission, which must guarantee indigenous participation and respect for their rights. Tomorrow, this proposal will be discussed with the ministries: an important moment to measure the political will to bring real solutions to the affected indigenous communities.”

Lily Hollister

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