Triple threat to the indigenous communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Oil spill, floods and coronavirus

Triple threat to the indigenous communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Oil spill, floods and coronavirus

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The rupture of three oil and derivative pipelines polluted the basins of the Coca and Napo rivers and affected, according to Amazon Frontlines estimates, 118,617 people.

The indigenous communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon remain alarmed by the coronavirus. There are no official figures on how many citizens belonging to these towns are infected or died due to the pandemic, since the government has not disaggregated the data.

Last week, Andrés Tapia, Communication leader of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE), reported that they had registered 57 positive cases and two deaths among members of these Amazonian indigenous communities.

Last weekend, the Ecuadorian Alliance of Human Rights Organizations reported that a 21-year-old Waorani woman tested positive in the Miwaguno community, Orellana province. In addition, there were suspected cases of the same nationality, in that same community and in Conipare and Gareno, in Napo; and Toñampare, in Pastaza.

Last Sunday, the same community reported the death of a Waorani pikenani (head of family) in the Bataburo community, in the Pastaza province, with symptoms associated with the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, this Wednesday, May 20, the Alliance of Organizations for Human Rights announced the confirmation of 12 more cases in the communities of Capataza and Charapacocha, territory of the Achuar nationality, in Pastaza.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called on the Ecuadorian State to “take extreme measures of protection” to these peoples in the face of “the high risks” to which they are exposed to the coronavirus, considering that they are isolated peoples and others of recent contact with the outside, so they have "high immunological vulnerability to new pathogens."

"Triple pandemic"

But, apart from the effects of the coronavirus, the original peoples of this part of Ecuador face "a triple pandemic," says Tapia.

“Not only the pandemic that we are experiencing due to covid-19, but also the entire process of the floods that we had in the month of March and that are still continuing in the month of May, which were equally historic floods, which had not been seen in the last decades ”, named the indigenous leader as another affectation.

In addition, he spoke of "the oil spills" that they have also had to suffer in the northern Amazon and "the very conditions of historical marginalization of neglect, especially in matters of health services."

Oil spill

On April 7, the sections of the Trans-Ecuadorian Pipeline System (SOTE), the Heavy Crude Oil Pipeline (OCP) and the Shushufindi-Quito Poliducto, which transport oil and derivatives from the Amazon to Esmeraldas, province of the Coast, on the other side of the country.

The rupture occurred in the town of San Rafael, on the border of the Sucumbíos and Napo provinces of the South American country, due to a land subsidence.

This led to an oil spill, which contaminated the basins of the Coca and Napo rivers and affected, according to Amazon Frontlines estimates, 118,617 people, belonging to 22 rural parishes in eight cantons that border the banks of these tributaries in the Sucumbíos provinces. , Napo and Orellana.

“The cantons and parishes affected by the spill are historically areas of oil exploitation; however, this Amazon region is characterized by being one of the most unequal in the country, reporting the highest indices of unsatisfied basic needs, ”says a report by that organization.

Of those almost 120,000 affected people, “35,000 would live in rural settings and had a much closer relationship with the river, for daily activities and survival; and of that figure, 27,000 correspond to indigenous men and women, of the Kichwa nationality, fundamentally ”, details, in an interview with RT, Lina María Espinosa, a human rights defender and legal coordinator of Amazon Frontlines.

"There are around 105 Kichwa communities identified as directly affected by the spill," he indicates, most of them in Orellana. In 61 of these villages, several people have had various health ailments, some of them dermal in nature, especially boys, girls, adolescents and women, due to their continuous contact with water.

From the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) they state that "the victims of the spill face the worst catastrophe", the inhabitants have "skin eruptions and ailments that even interrupt their sleep" and have not been treated. "Neither OCP nor Petroecuador have established a health plan," claims the organization.

Espinosa explains that people maintain contact with the rivers "for personal hygiene activities, laundry, recreation and because some have to continue fishing, because their food survival depends on that."

What have the authorities done?

The activist comments that, to remedy the situation, the authorities have left the answer to this matter in the hands of the oil companies involved. In the case of SOTE and the pipeline, of the state-owned Petroecuador; and the OCP, a consortium of private oil companies.

“The response has been fundamentally to deliver a few liters of water in some communities, to deliver some food kits in some communities as well and, in both cases, there is no periodicity of delivery, so there is no coverage of their needs. those communities ”, he emphasizes.

Also, he says, they have started activities that they have called "remediation" that "are only cleaning." Local labor has been used for these tasks, but human rights organizations do not know what the status of hiring of such personnel has been.

"So, we consider that, in effect, there is no adequate response by the State or by the companies and that it is not constituting a comprehensive reparation to all the rights of the communities that are affected by the spill," he added .

Although the pipes have already been repaired, the emergency and risk situation persists, because contamination is present and because, in addition, says Espinosa, “there are several technical reports that indicate that the area is very unstable, with significant seismic activity, prone to landslides. ”, So there could be future accidents.

Regarding this case, CONFENIAE reported that a judge from the Multicompetent Judicial Unit of the Francisco de Orellana canton called the Ministers of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources, René Ortiz; of the Environment, Paulo Proaño; and Health, Juan Carlos Zevallos; as well as the attorney general, Íñigo Salvador Crespo. Representatives of the OCP and Petroecuador were also summoned.

The hearing was scheduled for Monday, May 18, however, it was postponed to May 25, at the request of the Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources.

From Amnesty International they expressed their concern about this fact and asked the Ecuadorian State to "be guided by international human rights law in its response to the emergency caused by the oil spill" and "to ensure that the affected people and communities are safe and provide them with of the humanitarian assistance required, with their participation, in all stages of the emergency ”. They also requested that due process be guaranteed in the legal action initiated by those affected.


"In addition, this issue of the spill coincides with a winter season and with a very high rainfall record that has not been in the area for years," highlights the legal coordinator of Amazon Frontlines.

Last March, two weeks before the spill and just when the confinement began throughout the country, due to the coronavirus pandemic, heavy rains generated floods and destroyed the houses, crops and bridges of indigenous communities.

In the Amazon region, the Bobonaza, Pastaza, Wapuno and Arajuno rivers overflowed and caused flooding in the communities of Chapetón, Pakayaku, Sarayaku, Molino, Teresa Mama and Juan Montalvo.

One of the most affected villages was the Kichwa Sarayaku people, who were under water three times. Later, there was a flood of the Aguarico river, in the province of Sucumbíos, which caused the Ai'Kofan Sinangoe community to be cut off.

There is also dengue

Espinosa and CONAIE have reported that, in addition, in the Ecuadorian Amazon, as well as in other parts of the country, they face dengue, which had already been detected before the arrival of the coronavirus.

Exact numbers of those affected by this other epidemic are unknown. In an interview with Pichincha Comunicaciones, Marlon Santi, coordinator of the Pachakutik political and indigenous movement, spoke of "a wave of dengue that has broken out in various communities, in various towns."

According to a report by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), in 2019, Latin America registered 3,139,335 cases of dengue and 1,538 deaths. The epidemic continued this year, with more than 155,000 confirmed cases and 28 deaths in the first five weeks of 2020, according to that text, the last update that the agency made in this regard, in early February.

In Ecuador, the Ministry of Public Health registered 888 cases until March 12, a figure that decreased to 257 on April 4.

By Edgar Romero G.

Video: A 25-year legal battle over oil pollution in Ecuadors Amazon rainforest (February 2023).