Asunta Santillan (back left) and Maria del Rosario Sevillano (lower right), lawyers from DAR, and the indigenous leaders working together at the workshop in April 2010

Last week I did something I would not have thought possible just a few years ago:  connect via live audio conference from my office in the cold, wet Pacific Northwest to the indigenous people of Pucallpa, in the hot and humid Amazon rainforest of Peru (my home country).

Approximately 20 indigenous leaders from the Ucayali River basin (members of  ORAU, a regional branch of the nation-wide Amazon indigenous organization AIDESEP) were ready with numerous questions about the two latest environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies.  These studies were released for public review and are about oil exploration in Blocks 114 and 126 in the Peruvian Amazon.

The studies describe seismic prospecting and drilling of exploratory wells in the Ucayali River basin.  Neither of the studies has detailed management plans for the drilling wastes.  These activities might contaminate soil and freshwater with substances hazardous  to wildlife and people.

Not only is it difficult for the indigenous communities to get hard copies, but these studies are also hundreds of pages long, with complicated, technical jargon… understanding them can be very challenging!

ELAW and Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR) are working together to help review these studies and interpret what they say (and what they don’t say) in plain language so people can participate in an informed manner in the public discussions.

But there are other hurdles.  During our interactive audio meeting, a storm caused blackouts that affected  communication.  Thanks to Charito Sevillano, a lawyer with DAR, we were able to sort out a last-minute solution to the problem and I was able to continue the conversation with the indigenous leaders.  We were so happy to hear each other’s voices again!

In April, I went to Pucallpa to meet with these leaders, learn about their concerns, and exchange information.  The Yine, Piro, Shipibo and Ashaninka ethnic groups live in the buffer zone of the Cordillera Azul National Park, now divided into oil concessions.  They are asking for help seeking environmental justice and are demanding that authorities acknowledge their concerns.  We will continue to do our best to help them overcome the huge challenges they face.

Meche Lu
ELAW Environmental Research Scientist