Ecuador's isolated tribes threatened by oil drillings

Three years after the Yasuni-ITT initiative was scraped out, oil drillings began very close to where the country's last tribes living in isolation remain. 

In recent weeks Petroamazonas started drilling for oil in a platform called Tiputini C located close to the Yasuni National Park. The park is located 250 km south of Quito and sine 1989 is considered by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve.

Yasuni is also the home for two of the last indigenous tribes living in isolation, the Tagaeri and the Taromenane. The tribes live in family groups of 20 to 30 members. They travel on foot and are nomadic.

According to Amazon Watch oil exploitation is expected to cause pollution, forest destruction and affect the living of the indigenous tribes in the region.

"By drilling Yasuní-ITT, the Ecuadorian government is threatening to destroy one of the most biodiverse and culturally fragile treasures on the planet for what amounts to about a week of global oil supply," said Amazon Watch's director, Leila Salazar-Lopez.

Although the government's ministry of strategic sectors said Petroamazonas will be using drilling techniques which meet high international standards, concern remains over the environmental impacts.

Referring to the tribes, Alicia Cahuiya, vice-president of the Waorani people said:

"If they are going to protect them, they can no longer construct more roads or oil wells … The state must, as they say, ensure and protect the [isolated indigenous] Taromenane. As Waorani we ask that they keep their territory. No more exploitation there. No more taking down our trees."  

Cahuiya has received death threats for opposing oil exploitation in the region.

The Yasuni Initiative which ended in 2013 kept the protected areas safe from oil exploitation. It was administered by the UN and was one a very innovative conservation proposal as it suspended oil extraction in return for payments from the international community.

Until the Yasuni controversy Ecuador was considered one of the most environmentally progressive countries. It was the first country to include nature's rights in its constitution.

Tiputini C well is the first of about 200 needed to extract the crude thought to lie below the Ishpingo Tambococha Tiputini (ITT) block (920m barrels). This block represents about 30% of Ecuador's total oil reserves.

To reduce criticism president Correa promised that only 1/1000th of the area would be exploited and highlighted the use of the best available technology to reduce damage to the environment. 

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