Poisoned Amazon: Nothing Safe to Drink

Written by: Callie

Posted on July 3, 2013

rio-mamiri-ene-valleyThe Amazon has more water than any other river in the world. Along its 4,049 mile length, 500 tributaries feed into it. Every day it produces enough water to meet the needs of New York City for nine years.

And yet there is a shortage of fresh, safe water. It is because the Amazon is being poisoned.

Chlorine, kerosene, sulphuric acid, mercury and cyanide are all pumped into this gigantic river network from mining and cocaine production.

You wouldn’t want to swim in it and you certainly wouldn’t want to drink it.

Our partner villages in Peru have no choice. Poison comes from upstream and there is nothing that they can do to keep the river water safe.

But there is a simple solution; tap into natural springs.

aysha-with-new-fresh-waterLast year Cool Earth provided fresh water to the village of Cutivireni. Linking the village to a natural spring 12 kilometres away has changed the lives for the 262 villagers of Cuti.

Julián Quispe, Tsimi President “Cool Earth’s support for the water supply has made a huge difference. Before we had no water. We had to go to the Mamiri River to collect it, which is a great distance and is not always clean. Now we have drinking water which is important for the life of all people.”

This year Cool Earth plans to do the same for Coveja village.

Why not Rainwater?

gabriela-mamiri-riverWith around two metres (ten feet) of rain falling every year in the rainforest, rainwater seems like the simple solution. There are two problems. The forest in the Rio Ené is experiencing extended periods of drought which was unheard of ten years ago. The second is malaria. Standing water is the perfect breeding ground for the mosquitoes that carry this debilitating and sometimes deadly disease.

Why does cocaine poison rivers?

Andean people have chewed coca leaves for centuries but the global demand for cocaine is pushing cocaine growers into the Peruvian Amazon.

Whilst seen as the ‘glamour drug’ in the West, cocaine production is causing severe deforestation and poisoning the Amazon’s waterways.

putting-in-the-cutivireni-water-supplySmall-scale coca labs are set up under the cover of the forest canopy to extract cocaine from the coca leaf. This process is highly polluting, with chemicals such as kerosene, chlorine and sulphuric acid all going in to the waterways. For one kilogram of cocaine, 32 chemicals are required, producing 600 kilograms of waste and 200 litres of contaminated water. What’s more, the coca plant is not ideally grown on forestland so growers must use ten times the amount of agrochemicals on their crop.

In the last five years, 118 million litres of chemicals have been pumped into Peru’s river system from cocaine production

Poverty is often the driving force behind cocaine, with communities having few other livelihood opportunities. But money from this billion-dollar industry does not filter down to small-scale growers. Four days work for a small team of men may leave them with $80 to share between them.

Find out more about the problems facing the rainforest, and how CO2Count and Cool Earth are helping to protect the rainforest and its local communities.