Indigenous groups use drones to pinpoint oil spills

11 March 2018

Since 1980, AIDESEP, the Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana , has been working to give voice to the indigenous communities of the Amazon. Today it has a new initiative. It is working with the North American NGO ‘If Not Us Then Who?’ in a project to enable communities to use drones in their fight against contamination from oil and deforestation. 

The Amarakaeri people in the south-east and the Kukama people in northern Peru have been receiving training since 2014 in the use of drones. “We can check very distant areas and also see the potential threats, such as illegal mining and illegal logging, among other activities ... In this way, we can mitigate the impacts currently being caused by hydrocarbons, mining, and also encroachments” says Edwin Yunga Yauta M, from the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, quoted by Mongabay.

The goal is to train an environmental monitor for each community involved.

A research article (Paneque-Gálvez et al. Open Access Land 2017, 6(4), 86) reports positive results. The authors record how in the first such project in the Kukamas's territory "a one-year-old, uncleaned oil spill in a swampy forest approximately 11km away from the community was detected. A flight mission at 450m altitude was launched to map the forest along a pipeline together with the spill, which the community believed the oil company that was responsible (Pluspetrol) had not cleaned. The community was proven correct and could gather accurate evidence of the poor state of the pipeline as well as the extent and geographic location of the spill." This was a clear case, they say, where difficulty of access on foot to this remote and swampy region would have prevented the gathering of evidence.

However, it is no surprise that they also report that, so far, the impact has been hampered by limited funding, limited practice time, lack of access to both parts and access to the internet to provide photos necessary to plan the flights.

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