Historic Gathering of Peruvian Communities Affected by Oil and Mining

New platform of communities fighting for their rights to health present their demands to Minister of Health

By Jed Koball | Mission Co-Worker, Joining Hands Peru

Each community shared the story of contamination in their area. Photo by Jed Koball.

Leaders representing eight different communities whose health is affected by mining and oil industry activity gathered for the first time this past week in Lima. Dating back as much as twenty years, these communities have experienced the direct impact of toxic metals from irresponsible mining and oil spills. Over the course of many years they have been fighting as separate communities for the State to intervene on their behalf to both stop environmental contamination and to provide them with specialized health care. Until now, their complaints have fallen on the deaf ears of the government while also generating the antagonistic response of the extractive industries.  The communities represented were: La Oroya (Junin), Pasco (Cerro de Pasco), San Mateo (Lima), Espinar (Cusco), Bambamarca (Cajamarca), Puno, Chiriaco (Amazonas), and Cuninico (Loreto).

Civil society organizations, like Presbyterian Hunger Program global partner Red Uniendo Manos Peru that has been accompanying the population of La Oroya for twenty years, organized this long-awaited gathering to unite the voices of these affected communities, define a national agenda for environmental health care in response to extractive industries, and to set strategies in developing a national movement. Other organizers of the event from civil society were: Red Muqui, Cooperacción, Derechos Sin Fronteras, Comisión Episcopal de Acción Social, Oxfam-Peru, and Amnesty International-Peru.

The gathering included two days of sharing of experiences and identifying common issues and demands. Health and policy experts from Peru and the U.S. also spoke to help draw connections between the communities as well as to identify policy initiatives that may not have been considered. Dr. Fernando Serrano of the University of St. Louis who led the acclaimed health study in La Oroya in 2005 presented on the global framework of environmental health while referencing experiences from community mobilizations in the U.S. and Peru. He emphasized the need to not only demand that the State act responsibly but also that advocacy be directed towards the companies themselves. Also, he noted the importance of civil society strengthening its capacity to meet its most immediate needs while also educating the population and creating greater awareness of the issue.

After the two day gathering, the newly formed platform of communities fighting for their rights to health presented their agenda to the public through a press conference and public forum. Among their demands are:

– Immediate and specialized health care for affected populations

– Development of an integrated and decentralized health response

– Gender sensitive medical response

– Remediation of affected lands and water

– Establishment of health standards in relation to toxic metals

– Establishment of environmental standards in relation to toxic metals

– Establishment of a national monitoring of environmental waste sites

– Establishment of a national database for environmental health impacts

– Establishment of a baseline for environmental health across the nation.

At the end of the week, following news coverage, the Minister of Health met with leaders of the eight communities who presented him with their demands as well as independent and scientifically accredited environmental health studies of the impacts in their communities.  According to the website of the Ministry of Health, the Minister committed to sharing their demands and studies with the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Energy and Mining; Environment; Housing; Construction and Sanitation; and, Economy and Finance, toward the end of coordinating a multi-sectorial response and to reduce the causes of contamination.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.