the Oil IndustryIn the Ecuadorian Amazon, indigenous communities have fought a decades-long legal battle against the oil industry polluting their environment. In January 2021, a provincial Ecuadorian court overturned a previously held court ruling and ordered major oil companies to cease the use of gas flares. This environmentally degrading act has been practiced since the late 1960s when Chevron-Texaco began drilling prospects in the region. Within the affected areas of Sucumbios and Orellana, residents blame gas flares for the increasing cancer rates within their communities as well as other health complications that have led to the deaths of multiple community members, dating back to the beginning of the practice.

The Dangers of Gas Flaring

The burning of natural gas releases fine particulate matter into the airspace. Over time, exposure to these particulates leads to the onset of serious health problems. A group of Amazonian girls from an affected Ecuadorian community filed a lawsuit in an Ecuadorian court in February 2020. Their case claimed that members of their community live within a few hundred meters of gas flares and have documented more than 200 cancer cases associated with gas flaring in the area. Nearly three-quarters of the cases involved women.

The girls also claimed that the use of flares affected other environmental resources, aside from the air. The flares also contaminated the rainwater, which is the primary source of water for these communities, affecting drinking water, sanitation and the irrigation of crops. The legal action hoped to shut down 447 flares in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The lawsuit was unsuccessful at first, until January 2021, when a court ruled in favor of the girls and ordered an end to gas flaring in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Oil Spill Contamination

However, other legal battles are still ongoing. In April 2021, hundreds of indigenous activists took to the streets on the anniversary of a devastating oil spill that unleashed nearly 16,000 barrels of crude oil when two pipeline ruptured in 2020. The oil polluted two essential rivers and affected the water security of nearly 30,000 people. Protesters demanded both recognition and action from their elected leaders. Litigants seeking reparations from the oil industry are still struggling against the bureaucratic framework of the nation’s court system.

The 2020 oil spill severely contaminated the Coca and Napo rivers, both in the Amazon region. Pipeline operators failed to decontaminate these rivers after abandoning an ineffective clean-up attempt. The tens of thousands of Amazonians who depend on these rivers come in frequent contact with the contaminated water, leading to various health consequences. The oil spill has without a doubt increased regional poverty and illness. Members of these communities claim that such flagrant contaminations of vital waterways violate their constitutional rights as indigenous people of Ecuador. While the court system weighs the legal authority of these claims, the pollutant’s negative social impact in the region cannot be denied.

The Road Ahead

The Ecuadorian court’s ruling to end the practice of gas flaring by the oil industry brings relief to communities whose voices have gone unheard for decades. The court distinctly acknowledged violations in terms of constitutionally enshrined rights to health, a safe environment and sustainable development, further recognizing the state’s obligation to take measures to avoid negative environmental consequences. The ruling is a major victory for the people of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Jack Thayer
Photo: Flickr

Technology in the Amazon
The Amazon rainforest in Ecuador is an extremely biodiverse ecosystem vital to the survival of more than 70 indigenous communities. Alianza Ceibo is an organization that unites these communities in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Four different indigenous groups run it with the purpose of improving their people’s livelihoods and protecting over 20,000 square kilometers of the rainforest from environmental degradation. This article will examine how technology in the Amazon empowers these indigenous communities.

About Alianza Ceibo

The Alliance received the 2020 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Equator Prize for its efforts to support women entrepreneurs and connect remote communities with solar energy and clean drinking water. The Alliance also provides lawyers to represent the individual communities in land rights cases. As for the use of technology in the Amazon, the Alliance advocates for mapping systems to document indigenous stewardship of the rainforest, and monitoring systems to hold illegal trespassers accountable. The specific technology Alianza Ceibo and other organizations are using includes mapping technology, such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), drones, satellites and blockchain.

Mapping Technology

In the Amazon rainforest in northern Ecuador, the four indigenous ethnic groups that founded the Alianza Ceibo — the Siona, Waorani, Kofan and Secoya — use mapping technology to fight illegal development on their land. Mapping applications can document native plants, important cultural sites, near-extinct animals and geographical spots vital to the community’s well-being. The use of mapping technology in the Amazon’s indigenous communities demonstrates how the indigenous people’s culture, land and livelihoods inextricably link.

The Counter-Mapping Project

The Waorani indigenous group uses mapping technology for its counter-mapping project in the village Amisacho. Digital Democracy, a nonprofit based in California, supports this technology. The work of the counter-mapping project aims to provide an alternative map to the typical government maps only showing square footage and natural resources. The Waorani’s map documents the rich history and cultural significance of the rainforest that they and other indigenous ethnic groups call home. Indigenous leaders of the Waorani, leaders of the Kofan, Secoya and Siona and international activists have all worked together to provide the most accurate representation of the link between people and land.

In a Sierra magazine article, the counter-mapping project’s leader Opi Nenquimo said “Our map shows all of the things that don’t have a price…Building it we also build our communities.” The Waorani do not just use maps to show outsiders the significance of their land. They also use it to teach their younger generations to honor and steward land which their ancestors have defended since the Inca. Using technology in the Amazon’s remote communities can be very useful and empowering, but it is not a replacement for indigenous knowledge and practices that members of the indigenous community passed down through generations.

In 2018, the Waorani used data gathered on Digital Democracy’s mapping application Mapeo, to sue the Ecuadorian government for not asking consent to begin a drilling project. The Waorani, with support from Digital Democracy and Amazon Frontlines, won the case in April 2019. It set an important precedent for future land rights cases in Ecuador and around the world.

Drones and Satellites

Drones that can take satellite images or videos illustrate another effective type of technology being employed in the Amazon rainforest. Drone technology allows people to monitor vast swaths of land in a short amount of time, and to hover over areas that may be difficult to reach on foot. Technicians monitor footage derived from the drones and then contact the relevant indigenous group. With their knowledge, understanding and presence in the forest, indigenous people can make the best decision on how to deal with a potential threat.

Indigenous groups protect nearly a quarter of the Amazon and deforestation affects most of them, which is why it is so important that they are at the forefront of environmental efforts. Speaking to the importance of supporting the communities that live in the rainforest, Suzanne Pelletier, director of the Rainforest Foundation U.S. (RFUS) said, “These are not just trees, these are not just lands, it’s such a virtual part of their culture, it’s how they maintain their health and wellbeing.” To destroy the rainforest is to destroy indigenous people’s livelihood.

RFUS is another nonprofit supporting the use of technology in the Amazon. The organization works directly with indigenous communities, focused in Panama, Guayana, Peru and Brazil. RFUS employs drones and, most recently, blockchain technology.

Blockchain Technology

Blockchain is a public digital registry that timestamps and records transactions, providing the opportunity to make real-time financial transactions without having to go through banks or other institutions. At this point, many still consider blockchain experimental, but the promise of transparency, complete digitization and worldwide access are driving its implementation. This form of technology in the Amazon is new, but for RFUS, it is full of promise.

RFUS uses a blockchain that the Regen Network, a computing and technology development group, developed. RFUS’s pilot program is in the indigenous Ticuna community of Buen Jardin de Callarú in Peru, but the organization hopes to expand the use of this registry across the Amazon. The pilot group agreed to protect 1,000 hectares of forest. In the first year, it plans to save 70 hectares and plant at least 7,000 trees. The group will receive compensation for its work using blockchain technology.

A big problem in forest conservation has been how to support the people actually doing the work on the ground, the same people deforestation most harms. Blockchain offers a possible solution and RFUS has been successful in utilizing it in Peru. In June 2020, RUFUS reported that the Buen Jardin De Callarú community and others working with it were able to reduce the deforestation rate from 10% annually to zero between 2018 and 2020, and obtained pay for their work with blockchain.

These three different technological innovations have demonstrated how indigenous communities in the Amazon are able to fight modern threats with modern technology. The Amazon rainforest and indigenous communities link together, dependent on each other for a healthy and long life. The use of technology in the Amazon empowers indigenous groups to effectively protect the rainforest and thereby also their livelihoods.

– Caitlin Harjes
Photo: Flickr

the Amazon's River PeopleDeforestation is regularly spoken of on a global scale. Most people understand that deforestation, the removal of trees and plants, may seem beneficial to the global economy, but the positive effects disappear in the long term. Climate change is a looming negative externality. It also impacts our health directly. Deforestation correlates with an increase in disease and a decrease in immunity as natural remedies become scarce. One study found that around 30% of disease outbreaks were caused by deforestation of the surrounding areas. The impact of deforestation on a global scale may be hard to calculate. However, the effects of deforestation on the ribereño, the Amazon’s river people, puts deforestation in perspective.

Who Are the Ribereños?

The ribereños, also known as the river people or riverine peasants, live along the riverbanks of the Amazon. Their communities live apart from the rest of civilization in the forests of Peru and Brazil. The Amazon’s river people are self-dependent; they operate their own education, health, food supply and water supply systems. The ribereños are rather adaptable to the behaviors of the Amazon river and forest. Over the years, they have learned how to use their resources sustainably.

The Effects of Deforestation on Ribereños

Unfortunately, deforestation has increased hunger among the Amazon’s river people. These riverine communities rely primarily on fishing during lower tides and hunting during high-water seasons. Both of these resources have decreased over the last decade due to the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. The removal of the trees decreases natural resources, so hunting and food gathering have become less and less effective in supporting these populations. Furthermore, there is a link between deforestation and more frequent runoffs, baseflow reductions, erosion and pesticide-contaminated water.

Additionally, developers use forest fires for deforestation in Brazil. As a result, the air quality has worsened, putting the Amazon’s river people at higher risk of respiratory disease. In the time of COVID-19, this could be detrimental to the ribereños. Their only way to receive medical treatment is to travel by boat, for hours or even days. Therefore, any new disease or increase in illness has the potential to end in mass deaths.

Fighting Deforestation in Amazonia

The effects of deforestation of the Amazon have changed drastically in recent years. According to Professor Bratman, the author of Governing the Rainforest: Sustainable Development in the Brazilian Amazon, the ribereño population has been rather vocal about their struggles. “Deforestation went hand in hand with threats to their land and livelihood. Ranchers and loggers were moving onto the land on which the ribereños have lived on for generations, claiming that they actually have the right to take it,” explains Bratman. She saw how the Amazon’s river people united against deforestation and caused a spike in media attention. They are not helpless, but they do need the help of others. Bratman stated it is important to help the ribereños “keep the issue in the news. Support the organizations on the ground doing the work. It is important to be environmentally aware because it’s all of our future at stake.”

Thankfully, several organizations are working to help the riverside communities of Amazonia. The main actors are the WWF (World Wide Fund For Nature), Environmental Defense Fund and Green Peace. These organizations focus on generally fighting deforestation and on helping the ribereños survive their changing environment.

The Amazon’s river people are staying vocal and so are the organizations helping them. Brazilian deforestation has headlined numerous international newspapers, putting pressure on the Brazilian government. The main way to help the riverside communities of Amazonia is to continue the discussion.

Anna Synakh
Photo: flicker

France is helping to protect the Amazon
One of the organizations making a large difference in protecting the Amazon is the Agence Française de Développement (AFD). This agency is a public financial institution that operates based on policy given by the French government. Its main objective is to fight poverty and promote sustainable development. Here are five ways France is helping to protect the Amazon.

5 Ways France is Helping to Protect the Amazon

  1. Contribution through Grants: Since 2019, AFD gave 15.5 million euros in grants to Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. These grants aim to help the local population and governments increase protective measures for the environment. To make these grants possible, AFD combined efforts with other public development banks, including the Inter-American Development Bank. The Inter-American Development Bank aims to promote biodiversity in the Amazon, which is one of the AFD’s objectives as well.
  2. TerrAmaz Program: Another way that France and the AFD are protecting the Amazon is by giving money to the TerrAmaz program. This program is located at five different sites in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. TerrAmaz is working on new models of large-scale ecosystem conservation with a focus on low-carbon economic development. Additionally, TerrAmaz monitors deforestation at each local site and promotes sustainable agricultural practices to lower deforestation effects. The grant given to TerrAmaz from AFD is worth 9.5 million euros.
  3. Supporting Indigenous Tribes: The third way AFD is helping to protect the Amazon region is by supporting the local tribes that inhabit the land. AFD gave one million euros to help the Kayapo and Kapoto tribes in Brazil. Indigenous communities in the Amazon face tremendous pressure from those looking to seize and deforest the land. In response, AFD supports tribes to prevent that from happening. This project is led by Conservation International with the help of other local organizations that support the indigenous community. These organizations will help rehabilitate the land after fires, create a monitoring system for fires and introduce new sustainable agricultural activities to the tribes.
  4. Sustainable Cocoa Production: AFD, along with the French Facility for Global Environment, is giving a total of 7.5 million euros to support sustainable cocoa production. The project is focused specifically on the production of cocoa in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Conservation International has partnered with Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières and Kaoka, an organic fair trade chocolate company. The aim of the project is to increase cocoa sales, while also preserving the biodiversity in the area. One method is to combine the farming of cocoa with tree planting.
  5. Political Pressure: The final way that France is helping to protect the Amazon is not on the ground but in the political sphere. President Emmanuel Macron of France has openly criticized the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, over his lack of effort and action towards protecting the Amazon rainforest after the devastating forest fires. President Macron committed France to a $500 million package to save the Amazon, which includes other South American and European countries, but not Brazil. Macron would like to work with Brazil, but is determined to help save the Amazon regardless of an agreement between the two nations.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily paused some of the work that AFD has funded, it is nonetheless a major step for a big European power to support the Amazon. France and the AFD have set an example for the rest of the world through its work to protect the Amazon. Hopefully, other countries will also make saving the Amazon rainforest a priority of their efforts.

Claire Brady
Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurity in Guatemala
September 1, 2020, brought joy to citizens of Guatemala City as nearby schools finally received a long-awaited donation from the company, Amazon. Through coordinated efforts with Guatemala Minister of Education Claudia Ruíz Casasola, Amazon donated cooking supplies which will be dispersed among 500 schools surrounding Guatemala City. These schools are located in the Dry Corridor, an area that has suffered from food insecurity due to dramatic flooding followed by months of drought. Amazon’s donation to these 500 schools will perhaps assist 100,000 students currently battling food insecurity in Guatemala.

Amazon’s Partnership with the World Food Program (WFP) USA

Amazon is a partner of the World Food Program USA (WFP), an organization dedicated to fighting global hunger and famine. The organization has had quite a year, providing meals for 138 million people. They even raised $1 million in 10 days for those suffering the results of the explosion in Beirut. This partnership has allowed WFP to continue its efforts in supporting the Guatemalan government’s school feeding program while combating global hunger as a whole.

Amazon’s Partnership with the United Parcel Service (UPS)

This donation was long-awaited, as Amazon delivered the initial shipment back in February of 2020. Concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and international shipping delayed the distribution of the donation until now. Therefore, making this a moment of excitement and gratitude. However, the shipment of this donation was made possible through the generosity of the United Parcel Service (UPS). UPS covered the cost of the shipment of Amazon’s donation to the schools in Guatemala, contributing to the support of the WFP as it navigates the global challenges of the pandemic. The donations expect utilization in January when many public schools plan on welcoming back students.

The outcomes of this donation are plentiful, as food insecurity is a major threat to the children in Guatemala. This year’s cropping season produced Guatemala’s worst crop yield in 35 years due to excessive drought. Moreover, Guatemala faces the highest level of malnutrition in Latin America. As a result, many school-aged children face stunted growth and the pandemic contributed to a total of 1.2 million citizens, already in need of food assistance.

Through the generosity of Amazon and UPS, items such as bowls, blenders and pans will arrive in schools to prepare breakfasts and lunches for students facing food insecurity. By battling food insecurity  in Guatemala and malnutrition in schools, the government can work to make sure students are receiving their necessary nutrient intakes. In parallel, this does not place financial stress on families to provide daily meals for their children.

Mission Guatemala

The Guatemalan government’s school feeding program, in addition to other initiatives, such as Mission Guatemala, has the goal of ending any deaths relating to hunger across the country. Large organizations like the WFP, along with major businesses like Amazon and UPS have the potential to assist in the fight against global hunger in countries like Guatemala. Amazon and UPS have set a positive example with this donation. In this way, they bring awareness to the food crisis that exists in countries outside of the U.S. Due to the companies’ global influence, other major brands may follow suit. Potentially, making donations and partnering with organizations that work to assist others.

The WFP USA also accepts donations and the opportunity to begin fundraising through their website. Advocacy is essential, and any individual contribution can assist those battling hunger, as seen by the generosity of both Amazon and UPS.

Evan Coleman
Photo: Flickr

Online Charitable Donation PlatformThe AmazonSmile Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization created by Amazon to administer the AmazonSmile program. This program allows customers to enjoy the same Amazon online shopping experience as the traditional Amazon online shopping platform, but now with the option of donating 0.5% of eligible purchases to various charitable organizations. The AmazonSmile program charges no additional cost to either the charitable organization or the customer. The new foundation from Amazon or rather, the online, charitable donation platform, represents a positive, philanthropic step forward for the company. This initiative has the potential to reach millions of Amazon users and hopefully, even more of the world’s poor will benefit.

How it Works

Signing up for AmazonSmile is a highly intuitive process for customers. It is available on any web browser under the URL: smile.amazon.com and it can even be activated from the Amazon shopping application. One of the program’s main features is that customers can choose the specific nonprofit to which they want to donate. Moreover, the online, charitable donation platform offers more than 1 million charitable organizations to choose from.

The charities included in the program must pass an approval process to guarantee that the customers’ donations only fund reputable organizations. Organizations hold valid registry and remain in solid standing with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) (also known as a registered nonprofit). Only then are charitable organizations eligible to register on AmazonSmile. Additionally, foundations must be public and located in either the U.S. or Washington D.C.

Yet, after all of this information, an important question remains — why are some Amazon customers hesitant to use this program when shopping?

The Problems with AmazonSmile

Enabling AmazonSmile seems like a simple way to help others. However, the program has already received some criticism. Since the donation is only 0.5% of a customer’s eligible purchase order, a customer would have to spend $5,000 on Amazon to donate just $25 to the organization of their choice. When taking a closer look at consumer spending, it is clear that this purchase-to-donation ratio is not necessarily skewed in favor of Amazon’s online charitable donation platform (and thus, the charities). For example, in 2018 Amazon Prime members only spent an average of $1,400 on purchase orders. Moreover, the purchase order value (on average) for consumers who were not Amazon Prime members was even less, at $600.

In 2015, the AmazonSmile Foundation donated just less than $13 million to charitable organizations. Although this figure undoubtedly represents a substantial amount of money, the fact remains that the company’s contribution was still less than 0.5% of Amazon’s total retail sales for that same year. The program donated about 0.00012% of Amazon’s total retail sales in 2015. Given Amazon’s extreme level of success, many people criticize the program for its minuscule donations (in proportion to the company’s total retail sales).

A Silver Lining

Regardless of its flaws, the AmazonSmile Foundation holds the potential to provide a simple way to substantially give back to charitable organizations. For those who want to make small contributions, often — transitioning to AmazonSmile is an effective way to accomplish philanthropic, retail goals while making a positive impact in the fight against world poverty.

Danielle Wallman
Photo: Google Images