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  • A baby boy from the Comuna Domingo Playa with skin conditions due to the oil spill.

    A baby boy from the Comuna Domingo Playa with skin conditions due to the oil spill. | Photo: Ecuador's Alliance of HR Organizations

Published 24 June 2020
Opinion

“The situation in the impacted communities is not only alarming but critical, especially in terms of the health of children," Ecuador's Alliance of Human Rights Organizations said.

Seventy-five days after some 15,000 barrels of oil gushed into two of Ecuador's most important rivers in the northern Amazon, Indigenous communities are still suffering the consequences while the government is not taking any actions, Ecuador's Alliance of Human Rights Organizations has denounced. 

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Following a lawsuit filed by Indigenous communities against the State, a hearing began in late May, but was soon suspended due to the alleged illness of the judge in charge of the proceedings, members of the Alliance said at a virtual press conference earlier this week.

"The situation in the impacted communities is not only alarming but critical, especially in terms of the health of children. Several have spots, rashes, or lacerations on their bodies, which appeared weeks after the contamination of the river waters," they wrote in a statement published after the press conference.

Damage of the skin is a typical symptom of exposition to contaminated river water, according to health experts cited by the Alliance.

"The river water is still polluted, and the communities continue to consume it, due to the lack of other means," Kichwa leader and President of FCUNAE, the region's Indigenous Federation of United Communes, Carlos Jipa, said at the press conference.

Skin problems, an outbreak of dengue fever, and cases with symptoms associated with COVID-19 are increasing in the region. At the same time, local authorities and the State are unable to provide urgent and adequate action. 

"People have received medicines such as ibuprofen or fusidic acid, without consideration of their age group, pathologies, and clinical history," the Alliance denounced.

The spill occurred on April 7, following the breakage of a section of the Heavy Crude Oil Pipeline (OCP) within the Trans-Ecuatorian Oil Pipeline System (SOTE).

Urgent containment measures were not taken at the time to stop the spill, which could reach the waters of the River Coca and Napo, causing severe ecological and environmental problems.

Pollution has affected more than 2,000 families and left some 120,000 people stranded without a safe source of food and water, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legal action was aimed to demand immediate reparation, relief for affected peoples, and repair or relocation of the pipelines to prevent future spills. But as more than 75 days have passed, authorities are accused of failing to meet their responsibilities toward Indigenous communities.

"Indigenous communities are experiencing four damages at once; pollution from the spill, COVID19, dengue fever, and floods. There is an abandonment of the State," Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Aguarico Jose Adalberto Jimenez Mendoza said with concern at the press conference.

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