November 26, 2012

Shipwrecked: The sorry state of development in the lower Urubamba

The shipwrecked hospital boat at the mouth of the Camisea River is an apt metaphor for the sorry state of social development in indigenous communities of the lower Urubamba impacted by the Camisea Gas project in southern Peru.  
A $150,000 hospital boat shipwrecked at the mouth of the Camisea River.

Donated at a  cost of $150,000 by PetroBras as part of its negotiations with native communities, the boat was supposed to serve as a fully equipped aquatic hospital and ambulance.  Instead, due to poor coordination between the company, the Peruvian Health Ministry and the community, the boat lies on its side filled with silt like a beached whale: an expensive eyesore, a dangerous jungle-gym for native children playing by the river, and a reminder of where good intentions can lead.

The Camisea region is home to a great diversity of indigenous peoples including the Matsigenka, Piro, Ashaninka, Nahua, Nanti and perhaps others, some of whom remain in isolation to this day.  With 25 years of experience working among the Matsigenka and other native groups in the region, I was called on to take part in an independent advisory panel set up by the Import-Export Bank of the United States as a condition of their loan to Hunt Oil for building a pipeline that brings Camisea gas to the Pacific coast of Peru for export. My preliminary analysis of the situation of social development in the Lower Urubamba has now been published in the most recent report of the South Peru Panel.  The report also includes analysis by other panel members of Peru's energy matrix, environmental impact assessments and community-based monitoring of mining and hydrocarbon projects. 

In this posting I summarize the results of my contribution to the report based on field research in ten indigenous communities in the lower Urubamba.  During the two-week visit, carried out in November-December of 2011, I interviewed community members and leaders about their perceptions of the changes brought about Camisea Gas development.  One indigenous federation leader summed up the situation in this way:

What is happening in the lower Urubamba isn’t development.  It’s confusion.  Everyone has their chain saw, their boat motor, their zinc roof… The rivers are contaminated, the young people who have jobs don’t plant crops… People have money but malnutrition and illiteracy are on the rise.  There is no food, just cans of tuna.  When there’s no tuna, there’s always beer.