A controversial gas project recently approved by the Peruvian government has the potential to wipe out a group of uncontacted tribes who live in the area. Earth First Journal reports that Peru’s Ministry of Culture, which is responsible for protecting the country’s indigenous people, has approved a plan by three foreign oil and gas companies to do oil exploration on land just 100km from Machu Picchu, where 15 uncontacted tribes live in isolated regions of the Amazon Rainforest.
Survival International reports that the Camisea gas project, being carried out by three major companies from Argentina, the U.S. and Spain, will involve detonating thousands of explosive charges, drilling exploratory wells and importing hundreds of workers into an area where these tribes now live in isolation. Any contact between the gas workers and the Indians has potential to spread diseases to which they have no immunity, creating the potential for epidemics – a fact even recognized by one of the companies planning to work in the area. Argentina-based Pluspetrol states in its Anthropological Contingency Plan that diseases transmitted by the workers could cause “prolonged periods of illness, massive deaths, and, in the best cases, long periods of recovery.”
When Shell Oil explored for oil in the area during the 1980s, the first contact led to the deal of an estimated 60 per cent of the Nahua Tribe. “Many, many people died,” said a Nahua man named Thomas. “People dying everywhere, like fish after a stream has been poisoned. People left to rot along stream banks, in the woods, in their house. That terrible illness.”
The decision to allow the project was made despite international outrage, the resignation of three Peruvian ministers, condemnation by the United Nations – and the fact that it goes against Peruvian and international laws that require consent from indigenous peoples for any projects carried out on their land.
Images via Survival International