The health consequences of oil spills are dire. In 2016, specialists from the Ministry of Health collected blood and urine samples from 1,168 people living in the area around Block 192. Half of those evaluated, including Mr. Hualinga, his wife and their young son, had toxic metals — lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium — at levels higher than those permitted by the World Health Organization. This can affect the nervous system and the brain’s ability to learn, and can cause hypertension, kidney failure and cancer.
This catastrophe is unfolding in a place where seven out of 10 people are poor, where there is no drinking water, and where women and children fall ill with anemia because of chronic malnutrition.
The Quichua people of Nueva Andoas are at high risk for any disease, let alone a pandemic that has already killed more than 31,000 Peruvians, a death toll approaching that of the war waged against the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso or Shining Path.
If before the pandemic it was already very difficult for Indigenous peoples to access vaccines and medicines to treat epidemics like dengue and H.I.V., how will they ward off this new coronavirus?
Six months after the emergency declaration spurred by the pandemic, and fed up with the authorities not listening to them, residents of several Amazon communities are demanding medicine, medical attention and food for survival. Others are organizing to protest, and some have been shot by the police in response.
On the Amazon border, where the Quichuas live, no one has officially died yet from Covid-19. Given the lack of medicines, patients are being treated with medicinal plants and herbal teas. In Nueva Andoas, 60 percent of people have tested positive using rapid tests, including Lucas, Mr. Hualinga’s 11-year-old son, whose blood is contaminated by the oil spills.