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REPUBLIC OF PERU: Authorities neglect Indigenous Peoples exposed to contaminated water

20 Sep 2017
[International Secretariat]
Region: REPUBLIC OF PERU
Topic: Indigenous people Minority group

Amnesty International investigated and revealed the Peruvian government has been neglecting the health of hundreds of Indigenous people whose only sources of water are contaminated by toxic metals and has failed to provide adequate healthcare for Indigenous communities in Cuninico and Espinar, in the country’s Amazonian and Andean regions, respectively.

Community members in Cuninico told Amnesty International that in 2014 the river water and the fish, on which the community depend, started to taste strange.

A 2014 study by DIRESA (Peru’s Regional Health Authority) revealed that the levels of aluminum and total petroleum hydrocarbons in the water in Cuninico exceeded those allowed for human consumption. 

In 2016, a study by Peru’s Ministry of Health revealed that more than half of people in the community had abnormal levels of mercury in their blood. Alarming levels of cadmium and lead were also detected in people. According to the World Health Organization, exposure to mercury and lead can cause extremely serious health problems and irreversible damage to foetal development.

The government has also failed to determine the causes of the contamination of the river.The closest health centre to Cuninico is an hour and a half away by speedboat and does not have the specialists required to meet the needs of a local population exposed to toxic metals.

In the province of Espinar, in the Andean region of the country, the situation is similarly concerning.

Studies conducted by the Peruvian authorities concluded that a number of entire communities in Espinar have been exposed to heavy metals and other chemical substances.

A 2010 study by the National Centre for Occupational Health and Environmental Protection for Health found that nearly all the community members who were tested had either lead, cadmium, mercury or arsenic in their blood. Prolonged exposure to these toxic metals is known to cause a variety of chronic health problems including memory loss, infertility, vision loss, diabetes, liver disease, kidney failure and cancer.

The State’s response has been utterly inadequate. The government has also failed to determine the causes of the contamination of the river.

Despite the fact that the government declared a public health emergency in the area in 2017, no real steps have yet been taken to provide health care to the communities and address the water contamination.

“The fact that the Peruvian authorities choose to do very little in the face of evidence that hundreds of Indigenous people have been exposed to toxic metals is not only cruel, but a violation of their right to health.”

“Instead of turning a blind to the desperate plight of Indigenous Peoples, the Peruvian authorities are putting their health and lives at risk. Authorities must ensure that people in Cuninico and Espinar have access to clean water and that the causes of the contamination are established and tackled,” said Salil Shetty.

13 September 2017 
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE

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