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The Ecuadorian Pipeline Disaster
If you follow the news about the environment, the one thing that pops up on almost a weekly basis is
bad news about major oil spills, their cleanup efforts, and their horrific effects on both nature and, in
some cases, human culture. For example, in Ecuador, a country located in South America, there is a
growing struggle among the aboriginal people of the Kichwa communities, the operators of the Crudos
Pesados Oil Pipeline, and the government.
Ecuador not only shares borders with Colombia and Peru, but it is also home to a small part of the
Amazon Rain Forest, where as many as 800,000 people live. The pipeline carries crude oil that is
pumped from oil fields in another part of the country to the Pacific Ocean coastline where it is then
distributed to other countries and oil interests. The transferred oil and fuel crosses the Amazon Jungle,
the Andes mountain range, and numerous natural reserves on its way to the coast. These are all highly
sensitive areas whose ecological balance is easily disrupted.
In April of 2020, three breaks in the pipeline caused a huge spill in the Ecuadorian Amazon that
ultimately filled the area, and the Coca and Napo rivers, with about 5,000 gallons (19,000 liters) of oil
and fuel. Not only were vast amounts of local wildlife and plant life destroyed, but over 120,000 people
were indirectly affected, including approximately 30,000 of the Kichwa people, who live downriver
and who suffered the impact directly of this man-made disaster.
These indigenous communities depend on the rivers for water, food, and support for their agricultural
crops. The rivers also support their way of life and their health—both of which have suffered since the
oil spill. Unfortunately, the local government, which seems to value oil profits more than people, has
given more support to the oil company that manages the pipeline. Many environmentalists argue that
both the government and the oil company failed to make sure that precautions were taken to prevent
such a disaster, as well as future ones.
Locals have also complained that there has been little repair of the environmental damage caused by
lost oil, and the government has also turned a blind eye to the physical and emotional needs of the
affected Kichwa families. Instead of helping to restore and protect the food sources that the river has
provided to these people, or the agricultural crops lost to the now contaminated soil and water, the
government has responded simply by providing bags of noodles and cans of sardines.
Moreover, on the day of the spill, the indigenous communities were not informed about the spill and
went about fishing as usual. It has been estimated that children from 60 communities now have
problems with their stomachs and skin, such as oil stains that might remain for life.
The failure to maintain the pipeline, as well as to protect the environment, has become obvious, but
unfortunately so is lying about it. The local communities were originally promised that the oil would
not flow through these ecologically sensitive areas. Of course, this turned out to be false.