Tribes Under Imminent Threat In Amazonian Oil Disaster

Jordy Muus

November 29, 2020

On November 27th, a leak was discovered in an oil pipe in the Shiripuno river, causing a large oil spill into the heart of the Yasuni National Park.

1. On November 27th, a leak was discovered in an oil pipe in the Shiripuno river, causing a large oil spill into the heart of the Yasuni National Park.

2. Yasuni is one of the most remote and biodiverse places on Earth, home to isolated indigenous tribes, including some who have never been contacted.

3. The oil spill has contaminated the drinking water used by around seven different Huaorani communities, two uncontacted tribes in Ecuador and possibly more uncontacted tribes in Peru and Brazil.

4. Petrobell has failed to respond to the crisis and is blaming the protesters.

5. Only one NGO is currently active in this remote area, so international reaction is urgently needed.

Jordy Muus, the STNF Foundation: “The oil is ravaging the Shiripuno area and harming many people and animals that depend on the rivers. We have heard stories of poor farmers that have lost their cattle due to diseases caused by the contaminated waters. There have also been many complaints and protests from indigenous communities that now depend on limited water bottles from Petrobell and the government, while they have used the rivers for their drinking water for centuries. Meanwhile, Petrobell is not taking adequate action and is neglecting the situation. This will sadly only change with outside and international pressure. Therefore, we are reaching outto the media and taking legal steps with our counterpart on the ground in Ecuador, Fundacion CNBN.

Yasuni National Park is one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet and one of nature’s last remaining strongholds. It is also home to some of the last uncontacted tribes on Earth, the Tagaeris and the Taromenanes. They live in a special part of the Yasuni National Park, the ITT region.

This whole environment is now under imminent threat from the devastating effects ofthe recent oil spill.

The leak occurred on November 27th (see link for exact location) in the Shiripuno river. On November 30th, it had already reached isolated Huaorani tribes, the furthest away being, Bameno. This is already around 150km down river. This was almost 3 weeks ago, so the oil might have already reached the uncontacted people of Napo-Tigre in Peru by now, as reported by Alianza por los Derechos Humanos [1].

This is an environmental damage on a massive scale. There have been dozens of reports of dead animals being found all over the river sides, and poor colonist families living alongside the first parts of the river have seen their cattle die due to diseases caused by drinking from the contaminated waters.

Isolated Huaorani communities use the rivers for their drinking water. Since the water has been contaminated, they do not currently have any clean water to drink. A few days ago, they came to an agreement with Petrobell, the Brazilian oil company responsible for the leak, who will send them 2 bottles of water per family every 15 days. However, this is an agreement only with the Huaorani communities, not with the dozens of other isolated tribal communities in this region.

The oil had already reached the heart of the Yasuni National Park a few weeks ago, and there is no doubt that it is already affecting the uncontacted Tagaeri and Taromenane people and now also the uncontacted people in Peru and possibly even in Brazil.

No one has written about this disaster so far, most likely because it is one of the most remote areas of the Amazon. All the large NGOs are active in the western and northern parts of the Napo region, where many Huaorani communities been more in contact, but on the eastern side, where tribes still live traditionally no one is active - except Conservemos Nuestros Bosques Nativos (CNBN), a small charitable foundation.

Meanwhile, Petrobell has neglected the crisis and blamed the protestors. Innocent people have been imprisoned and killed for decades due to the incredible influence big oil has in this region. It is controlled by oil corporations – 40% of Ecuador’s oil reserves areconcentrated in the park, which makes it especially vulnerable to exploitation. These reserves have been untapped until a few years ago.

CNBN with financial support from its European counterpart Save the Native Forest (STNF) are doing everything in their power to urge the oil corporation to take responsibility, including taking legal steps in this matter. The prospects for success in a legal challenge have been significantly boosted by the victory of the Huaorani tribe insecuring a judgement that oil companies had no right to open up exploration on their ancestral land without consulting them. However, there are other ongoing cases that may go against indigenous interests, deepening their need for support.

We believe that through international outreach and activism, we can win real ground against oil exploration in the Yasuni region.

STNF has started a fundraising campaign to support CNBN on the ground in the fight against this particular oil spill. However,more widespread media coverage is needed to bring the attention of international audiences to this disaster, which is sadly the latest in a series of destructive events in the Amazon.

Notes to Editor:

[1] Alertby Alianza por los Derechos Humanos, 12 December 2020.