Published in the Ecologist, November 2010. To view the article in its original format, click here.

Activists call for corporations to withdraw from Amazon area because of disease and violence fears

A coalition of more than fifty NGOs has called for three major oil companies to withdraw from an area of Peruvian Amazon containing two uncontacted tribes.

letter sent by Survival International and co-signed by more than fifty other NGOs states that: ‘Uncontacted Indians are extremely vulnerable as they lack immunity to outsidersʼ diseases and they face the very real threat of extinction if they are contacted.’

Fears have also been raised for the safety of oil company workers who may be at risk from violent retaliation from tribes defending their territory. There have been reports of oil workers being killed by uncontacted tribes in the region previously.

The work planned by oil companies Perenco, Repsol-YPF and ConocoPhillips could also breach international law – it is claimed – which requires indigenous peoples to be consulted about projects that affect them.

‘Operating in this area demonstrates an utter disregard for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, who may feel forced to defend their territory,’ said Stephen Corry, director of Survival International. ‘If the companies have any sense, they will leave the area to its rightful owners before lives, and reputations, are ruined.’

Plans in the pipeline

According to the letter, Perenco have applied to the Peruvian government for permission to build a 207-km pipeline which would impact upon a tract of rainforest 500m either side along its length.

Meanwhile partner companies Repsol-YPF and ConocoPhillips plan to cut 454 km of seismic lines in a bid to find oil in ‘block 39’ – one of most biologically diverse areas on the planet – a process which involves clearing paths through the forest and detonating explosives.

This project would also include the construction of 152 heliports in the forest block, which lies adjacent to Yasuni National Park in neighbouring Ecuador, the subject of a recent groundbreaking deal in which Ecuador agreed to forgo oil exploration in return for international compensation.