Following the extensive and ongoing environmental damage caused when more than 3,000 barrels of crude oil spilled into the Chiriaco and Morona rivers, the Peruvian government has declared a state of emergency for 16 communities in the Amazon. The emergency will remain in effect for 60 days, and it will bring together the district of Morona, Datem del Marañon province, and other government agencies to come up with a solution.
The first pipeline burst on January 25 because of a landslide, according to the BBC. It took Petroperu – the company responsible for the spill – three days to patch up the pipeline. There was another rupture on February 3, but the cause is unknown. teleSUR reports that there was a third oil spill in mid-February.
While PetroPeru works to contain the spill, Suashapea, Pakunts, Chiriaco, Nuevo Progreso, Nazareth and Nuevo Horizonte indigenous communities have been affected. A water quality emergency was issued three weeks after the first rupture. “Fish have died, crocodiles have died, plants have died,” one woman told Canal N. “How are we going to live?”
PetroPeru has disturbingly been accused of using children to clean up the sludge. German Velazquez, the company’s president, has denied these accusations. However, in late February, he was thinking about firing an official who may have let children clean up the oil.
At least one 12-year-old boy reported he was paid 57 cents for every bucket of oil he collected. He was injured and taken to Piura for treatment. Petroperu will cover the boy’s medical bills, EFE reports. Univision adds that children who have been cleaning up the spill have been doing so without the right clothing or tools so that they can remain safe. In 2014, PetroPeru was also accused of hiring children to clean up a spill.
Environmental regulator OEFA said that PetroPeru could be fined about $17 million if it can be proved that the spills hurt people’s health.
Leonardo DiCaprio may have been fresh off his Oscar win, but on Monday, he took to Facebook to comment on the Peruvian oil spills. “At least two devastating oil spills have occurred in the Peruvian Amazon in the last month spilling thousands of barrels of oil into Amazonian rivers,” he said. “Peru’s national oil company is responsible, yet is continuing operations while these spills continue to affect indigenous and local communities.”
He urged people to join him and Amazon Watch Group in pushing PetroPeru to clean up the spill and take care of those affected. DiCaprio has used his award season buzz as a way to bring more attention to the environment, including by donating $3.4 million to the Ecuadorian Amazon.