A huge proportion of the Nahua tribe have been affected by the poisoning, which causes anemia and acute kidney problems
Up to 80% of a recently-contacted tribe in Peru have been poisoned with mercury,
raising serious concerns for the future of the tribe. One child has already died
displaying symptoms consistent with mercury poisoning.
The source of the Nahua tribe’s poisoning remains a mystery, but experts suspect
Peru’s massive Camisea gas project, which opened up the tribe’s land in the 1980s,
may be to blame. The project has recently been expanded further into the Nahua’s
territory, prompting fierce opposition from the tribe.
Rampant illegal gold mining in the region is another potential source of the mercury
The Nahua, who live inside a reserve for isolated Indians in south-east Peru, have
also been suffering from acute respiratory infections and other health problems since
they were contacted.
The Nahua were first contacted in the 1980s. Subsequent epidemics killed many members of the tribe
AIDESEP, the main indigenous organization in Peru’s Amazon, is lobbying the
government to carry out full health checks on the Nahua and other tribes in the area,
and to conduct a proper investigation into the cause of the poisoning. A study was
conducted by the Ministry of Health in spring 2015, but the results have yet to be
Nery Zapata, an indigenous leader, said: “Mercury contamination is extremely
damaging to human health because its effects are irreversible. The health department
must investigate this, and stop the contamination that is poisoning the indigenous
Survival has also written to the Peruvian Ministries of Health and Culture urging them
to publish the results of their study and put an end to the catastrophe.
Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said: “The Peruvian authorities have always been
pretty indifferent to the problems facing their indigenous communities, and the total
neglect they’ve shown in this case just proves it. Had this poisoning taken place in
Lima, I don’t expect they would have been quite so casual in their response, or as
slow to publish the results of their earlier findings. It’s nothing short of scandalous that
they are not doing more to sort out this crisis. It’s also very telling that they are
withholding information about it from the public.”