Vital link in the Peruvian Amazon: Healthy people - Healthy ecosystems



Posted on 03 March 2011  | 
Lima. “For conservation of nature to succeed it is necessary to guarantee the welfare of people”, says Aldo Soto, biologist of WWF, who has been working in the Abanico del Pastaza Wetlands Complex (Peruvian Northern Amazon), for several years.

In this region, the Kandozi people, one of the most representative peoples of the Peruvian Amazon, and partner of WWF for conservation, has become an iconic case. For centuries, this indigenous group has lived closely committed to conservation and sustainable management of the largest lake in the Peruvian Amazon, the Rimachi.

However, when the Kandozi fell prey to hepatitis B, introduced years ago, probably during oil explorations, they had to look for healthcare out of their territories, as their traditional medicine and shamans could not face this new and aggressive epidemic. Given the limited foreign help and the lack of local health services, they had to over-exploit and sell their resources without restriction as a means to afford the needed healthcare, thus contradicting years of commitment to conservation.

Unfortunately, the studies carried out by WWF identified that, despite the progress in the conservation of the Rimachi, as the epidemic of hepatitis spread, illegal contracts of communities with foreign fishers increased, motivated by the urgency of the population to pay attention to their health problems.

This was a breaking point for WWF, so it redefined its conservation strategy in the area, incorporating the link between human and ecosystem health as a priority, through strengthening local capacities and working with authorities and the media.

Some weeks ago, this new approach paid off, when a committee led by the culture and health Ministers, visited the far-away province of Datem del Marañon, where the Abanico del Pastaza is located, to announce the launch of the new program of Global Health Insurance. This government’s initiative is a commitment to improve free health services in terms of budget, infrastructure, staff and medicine; and the selection of this province for the pilot implementation, is a result of joint work of Kandozi and Shapra indigenous peoples, indigenous organizations like ORKAMUKADIP and CORPI, the Municipality of Datem del Marañon and WWF, among others.

“The Kandozi waited too long be heard and despite this serious illness they continued committed to preserving their territory and natural resources, which are the foundations for their survival and cultural identity”, adds Soto. “Our purpose was to contribute to the welfare of 2000 Kandozi villagers that are our allies for conservation, but we never imagined that these joint efforts would benefit a total of 58,000 villagers in the province!”, concludes.

Shared health

The Abanico del Pastaza Wetlands Complex in the north of Peru, is the largest Ramsar site of the Amazon, with an area similar to Switzerland (3,8 million hectares). It is a place of extraordinary biodiversity and productivity and the habitat of unique species such as the gray (Sotalia fluviatilis) and pink (Inia geoffrensis) river dolphins, the Amazon manatee (Trichechus inunguis) and others of high commercial value such as the pirarucu (Arapaima gigas), the largest fish in the Amazon Basin, and other fish species that have nearly disappeared elsewhere.

For years, this great productivity was also its main problem, as overfishing by foreign fishers led places such as the Rimachi Lake (the largest lake of the Peruvian Amazon) to the point of nearly collapsing. To face this, the Kandozi organized themselves to limit the access of foreign fishers, they defined sizes and catch seasons according to the species, better practices, and they even designed the first fisheries management plan approved by the government to an indigenous group. This way, they not only recovered the Rimachi, but thanks to this sustainable management scheme they increased their sales and so, the income obtained for this activity.

This work has been possible thanks to the support of Mac Arthur Foundation, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom (DFID DI).
Kandozi Girl
© Kjeld Nielsen / WWF Enlarge

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