By Aman Azhar
Real News (8/11/20)
Unprecedented flooding, the COVID-19 pandemic, and catastrophic oil spills are wreaking havoc in Ecuador’s Amazon and its Indigenous communities, one of the groups hardest hit by the climate-related emergencies fueled by unbridled drilling for oil and mining for minerals.
In April, as COVID-19 began to overwhelm the healthcare system, both of Ecuador’s transnational oil pipelines ruptured, dumping thousands of barrels of oil into the Coca river and its tributaries that provide fresh water and livelihoods to native communities. Regarded as Ecuador’s worst spill in a decade, the collapsed pipelines are still not fully repaired, and the government remains tightlipped over the incident. A similar environmental disaster was caused by an oil spill linked to Chevron-Texaco in Aguarico in Sept. 2013.
“We continue to see unfettered extraction of oil and gas despite what we know are climate consequences of that. And that will bring, you know this extreme weather, more pandemics. Chaos will ensue if we can’t live in balance with nature.”
Caught between the pandemic, historic flooding, and governmental negligence, Ecuador’s Indigenous people have launched an international appeal to crowdsource rebuilding efforts, and a COVID-19 monitoring platform with help from international environmental groups. As of early August, nearly 2,000 Indigenous people have tested positive for COVID-19, and almost 40 deaths have been recorded in the monitored territories.
A country of 17 million inhabitants, Ecuador’s fortunes have nosedived in the combined wake of the pandemic and recent environmental catastrophes. The country’s confirmed COVID-19 cases now stand at nearly 85,000, with the total number of deaths approaching 6,000. But the actual number could be fifteen times higher, according to one analysis, with bodies reportedly littering the streets of Quito, the nation’s largest city.
Beset by the coronavirus pandemic and crude-contaminated waters, the Indigenous people of the Ecuadorian Amazon are entirely left to fend for themselves. With little or no government healthcare support, similar to the situation TRNN previously reported in Brazil and Peru, the native people of the Ecuadorian Amazon are struggling with food security, access to drinking water, and sanitation supplies.
The government in Quito recently moved to reopen businesses, allowing the oil, gas, and mineral industries to restart operations. Workers and equipment have been brought back into Indigenous land, considerably elevating communities’ exposure to COVID-19. The acute lack of essential items has also forced native people to venture out to nearby towns. In some cases, those who leave also bring back COVID-19.
Around the same time as the pipeline rupture, global oil prices dipped below zero as worldwide demand faltered under pandemic fears, sending Ecuador to the brink of default on foreign debt. The country is heavily dependent on oil revenue, and much of its $65 billion public debt comprises oil-backed loans from China. Despite the uncertain global oil market amidst surging COVID-19 cases, the government in Quito has announced plans to expand oil production.
And then came the floods. …
(Commoner Call art by Mark L. Taylor, 2020. Open source and free for non-derivative use with link to www.thecommonercall.org )