We Can’t Drink Oil: Indigenous Peoples of Peru Speak Out

Toxins in Peru’s Rivers Reach Severe Levels

Communities living along the Corrientes, Pastaza, Tigre, and Marañón Rivers in Loreto, Peru have joined forces to put pressure on the Peruvian government after testing showed shocking levels of toxins and heavy metals in their drinking water as a result of oil exploitation in the region.


The Peruvian government first declared the Pastaza river basin to be an environmental crisis zone in March 2013, with all four rivers officially declared as severely contaminated within a year. Yet they have failed to act to tackle the pollution or provide humanitarian relief to the affected communities. The levels recorded surpassed legal and safe limits by hundreds of times. Findings in one report stated that hydrocarbon levels (TPH) in the Ullpayacu stream surpassed legal limits by 222 times, whilst in the Chirunchicocha Lake they surpassed by 382 times1.

Nearly $3 million worth of oil is extracted from these territories every month but the needs of the indigenous peoples and their basic human rights – access to clean water and safe food – have been ignored. This has taken its toll on the health of the communities, with a noticeable rise in the number of children being born with birth defects, horrific skin rashes becoming common, and thousands of stories of family members dying prematurely of unknown diseases2


Sarah Kerremans from Alianza Arkana stated “President Ollanta Humala has the power to provide immediate relief to the affected communities. We must stand in solidarity with the people of the four river basins by calling international attention to these blatant violations—of both Peruvian law and basic human rights—and demand immediate humanitarian relief be delivered until tangible environmental remediation efforts can be effected.”

Despite an unsuccessful hunger strike3 and weeks of community mobilizations, the only tangible results of these declarations have been long meetings and empty promises. The federations representing the Quechua, Achuar, Urarina, Kichwa, and Kukama Kukamiria people are showing their resilience and determination by continuing the dialogue with government officials to find a way through this crisis. In the words of the Kukama’s elected spokesperson for the strike, Monsignor Miguel Olaortuo, “We cannot remain impassive in the face of human suffering. We must stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. This is not a matter of faith, but of human solidarity and social responsibility.”

Their demands for justice are simple and overdue. This story is far from over.


Search the ‘Loreto’ tag for more news and information as this resistance process unfolds


  1. Page 10. http://observatoriopetrolero.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/SOURCE-Informe-sobre-los-reportes-de-calidad-ambiental-en-la-zona-de-extracción-petrolifera-del-r%C3%ADo-Pastaza.pdf
  2. http://alianzaarkana.org/images/assets/Pluspetrol_Deception.pdf.
  3. http://alianzaarkana.org/media-room/blog-latest-news/entry/kukamas-end-mobilization-after-announcing-a-hunger-strike

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We Can’t Drink Oil: Indigenous Peoples of Peru Speak Out

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