GOOD

Amazonian Tribes Try Harvesting Rainwater After Oil Drilling Polluted Their Water

Decades of oil drilling have polluted Lago Agrio. But now local tribes are installing rainwater harvesting systems that provide clean water.


Oil companies started drilling around Ecuador’s Lago Agrio in 1972. Texaco had found oil here a few years before, in the middle of the Amazon, and for decades the oil industry harvested the oil gushing from the ground. Chevron took over when it bought Texaco, and Ecuador’s state oil company took over from Chevron. All the while, the drilling operations were pouring pollution in the area’s air and water—so much pollution that last year an Ecuadorian judge ordered Chevron to pay a total $18 billion to a group of 30,000 indigenous people, represented by a coalition of lawyers from Ecuador and North America.

While lawyers fight in international courts for oil companies to pay up, the people in the Lago Agria area are living in one of the most polluted pieces of land on the planet. Oil is still being extracted from the area; some locals work for the industry. But a new project is ensuring that these communities will have access to clean water, despite the pollution that surrounds them.


ClearWater has already installed 70 rainwater-harvesting systems in villages that border the Agua Rico river. Four tribes are working to coordinate the installations—picking which sites will be first in line for the systems, putting them in, and training families to maintain them. And this week, with support from international NGOs like the Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch, the group launched a campaign to raise awareness, but more importantly, funding. The ultimate goal is to raise at least $2 million.

While the funding may be coming from outside the Lago Agrio area, project director Mitch Anderson has looked to the community to set the direction of the project and work to make sure it’s sustainable. In 2011, Anderson and the musician Rea Garvey met with tribes in the area and proposed partnering on a project that would be led by the tribes. In the meeting, the two men told the tribes, “You guys tell us what you want that to look like.” Adds Anderson: “They said water.”

Collecting and processing rainwater in such a polluted place requires extra care. The harvesting systems that ClearWater is using were designed specifically for this area: They have a filtration layer that targets the heavy metals that pollute the area, Anderson says. And the group is going to be doing tests on the water to make sure that it is clean enough to serve as drinking and cooking water—which would be its primary use.

While collecting and filtering rainwater can keep these communities healthier, it won’t fix the long-term pollution problems the area faces. ClearWater is working with Engineers Without Borders to assess how best the $2 million they hope to raise could be used and to look at the possibilities for larger projects that would filter river water or create clean wells.

If some court ever does force the oil industry to pay for the damage it’s caused to this area, these communities will have much more than $2 million with which to address these issues. “There’s going to be a bigger challenge which is management of those funds and implementation of programs that actually benefit the people and clean up the environment,” says Anderson. “We see this project as a great way of preparing for that moment.”

Photo courtesy of Mitch Anderson

Articles

October is domestic violence awareness month and when most people think of domestic violence, they imagine mostly female victims. However, abuse of men happens as well – in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. But some are taking it upon themselves to change all that.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

At this point most reasonable people agree that climate change is a serious problem. And while a lot of good people are working on solutions, and we're all chipping in by using fewer plastic bags, it's also helpful to understand where the leading causes of the issue stem from. The list of 20 leading emitters of carbon dioxide by The Guardian newspaper does just that.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via International Labour Organization / Flickr and Michael Moore / Facebook

Before the release of "The Joker" there was a glut of stories in the media about the film's potential to incite violence.

The FBI issued a warning, saying the film may inspire violence from a group known as the Clowncels, a subgroup of the involuntarily celibate or Incel community.

Incels an online subculture who believe they are unable to attract a sexual partner. The American nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center describes them as "part of the online male supremacist ecosystem" that is included in its list of hate groups.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

Since normalizing relations with Communist China back in 1979, the U.S. government and its companies that do business with the country have, for the most part, turned a blind-eye to its numerous human rights abuses.

In China's Muslim-majority province of Xinjiang, it's believed that over a million members of its Uighur population are being arbitrarily imprisoned and tortured in concentration camps. Female Uighurs in detention are being given forced abortions and subjected to sexual mistreatment.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

The vaping epidemic is like a PSA come to life. A recent outbreak of vaping-related deaths and illnesses has affected people from across 46 states. More than 800 people fell ill, and at least 17 people died from vaping. In Illinois and Wisconsin, 87% of the people who got sick said they used THC, and 71% of people also said they used products that contained nicotine. Symptoms of the illness included coughing, chest pains, shortness of breath, nausea, and fatigue. We finally might now why.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic believe toxic chemical fumes, not the actual chemicals in the vape liquid, might be the culprit. "It seems to be some kind of direct chemical injury, similar to what one might see with exposures to toxic chemical fumes, poisonous gases and toxic agents," Dr. Brandon Larsen, a surgical pathologist at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, said in release.

Keep Reading Show less
Health