Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Essential New Web Portal Gathers Info on Human Rights Impacts of Oil Pollution

Well, Rainforest Action Network's Change Chevron team beat me to it, but I was planning on posting today about "a new online information portal regarding 'Human rights impacts of oil pollution: U.S. Gulf Coast, Ecuador, Nigeria,'" as the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre announced in a press release [PDF].

Explaining the reason for the comprehensive portal, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre Director Christopher Avery said:

“Massive oil spills create human rights disasters as well as environmental catastrophes. As media coverage of the Gulf spill subsides, and people in the Niger Delta and eastern Ecuador continue to live in the midst of decades of oil pollution, we decided the time was right to create a platform that keeps an ongoing focus on the human rights impacts.”

An account written by BBC producer Rebecca John in 2005, while shooting a story with the Quichua (or Kichwa) people called 'The Curse of Oil,' is highlighted in the press release. It is one of the stories collected in the exhaustive Ecuador section of the portal:

“We had absolutely no idea what was going to happen the day we filmed with the Quichuar people in Ecuador...They were angry with the oil companies for polluting their lands and ruining their lives. After they showed us around, we could see why. Several large pits full of oil and toxic waste are scattered throughout their land. They told us that toxic substances from these pits regularly flow into their water supply and have also polluted the food chain, which the Quichuar rely on for their survival. All this has made them sick, they said, and very, very angry. After standing next to one of the pits for a short while I began to feel dizzy. The smell was overpowering and my stomach churned...What it must be like to live there, with the fear of contamination ever-present, I can't even begin to imagine.”

A local Ecuadorian displays crude oil and sludge in a toxic waste pit abandoned by Chevron at the 'Aguarico 4' oil well site in northeastern Ecuador. Photo by Caroline Bennett.

While almost all of the material has simply been collected from other sources, it has been exhaustively researched, is well-organized, and pulls together materials in helpful sections that allow for one to investigate important aspects of the issue.

For instance, you can peruse the section entitled, 'Recent articles comparing Ecuador situation with the Gulf response and coverage' or study 'Alleged impacts on cultural way of life of indigenous communities.'

Sections such as 'Assessing responsibility of Chevron/Texaco versus Petroecuador,' do provide a significant platform for Chevron's position, which would be more welcome if it were more consistent and honest, but I won't argue that point here. Of course, the Ecuador section is also filled with materials representing the efforts of Amazon Watch and the Clean Up Ecuador Campaign, as well as our allies, and of course, the affected communities who have been organizing to demand justice for so long.

While I haven't had a chance to explore it fully, a brief visit convinced me the portal will be a useful tool for anyone who wants to understand and compare the impact of oil pollution on front-line communities from the Gulf Coast to Ecuador's Rainforest to the Niger River Delta.

And while the Ecuador section is fascinating to peruse, it is also filled with horror stories and heartbreak. Thanks to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre for this resource–– may we one day be able to add a section about the historic victory that finally achieved a cleanup in the Amazon, and restitution for the damage done.

– Han

Han Shan is the Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign

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