Amazon Indians suffer ill effects from pollution


By Mark Ellis

Shipibo woman in her home
Shipibo woman in her home

The Shipibo people once lived in a pristine environment in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, with clean drinking water from fresh water streams, abundant fish in their rivers, and fertile soil for planting. But recently, mysterious ailments have been plaguing their people that may be related to environmental concerns.

“Oil pipelines in their territory have broken several times, so they have oil all around,” says Dr. Dale Kietzman, founder of Latin American Indian Ministries (LAIM). “There is also mercury in the rivers from gold mining.”

LAIM has been training pastors among the Shipibo, as well as responding to requests for practical assistance. Recently LAIM sent a professor to analyze their water and design a treatment system for the Shipibo.

“There is a sickness in their community, with young children dying and the villages suffering,” Dr. Kietzman says.

The pollution problem has intensified in the last decade. “Just in the last 4 years there have been seven oil spills in the indigenous territory of Canaan, from using old, rusted pipelines which destroy the water, land, health and vegetation of the area,” Dr. Kietzman notes. “The community now has to travel up to 3 hours to find non-contaminated sources of fish, and can no longer hunt or grow food on their now contaminated land.”

Dr. Kietzman blames an unhealthy alliance between business and government. “The government has allowed it because it’s profitable for the government,” he notes.  “The people of Canaan are forced to drink out of the oil-contaminated river. As a result, there has been a huge increase in deaths in the village, from unknown illnesses that local doctors cannot treat or diagnose.”

“Many oil companies operating in the Amazon have a long history of exploiting indigenous peoples and their lands, while making unfulfilled promises of schools for their children, jobs, and money,” he adds. “Instead, they leave social and environmental destruction in their wake, believing that no one is paying attention.”

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