Yasuni: Paradise in Danger
The Yasuni is part of Ecuador’s Amazon region and is among the most biodiverse areas of the world. Because of the unique environment the Yasuni is world famous. Even the UNESCO recognized the Amazon area for its ecological and also cultural importance. The national park covers an area of 9,820 square kilometers and is located in eastern foothills of the Andes. Untouched and amazing nature, and in some cases never contacted indigenous tribes on the one hand, soft and sustainable tourism on the other hand. However, this is not the whole truth. Unfortunately there is a third hand interfering: the exploitation of oil.
Many rivers that originate in the Andes cross the Ecuadorian Amazon. In the end, all these rivers form one of the largest rivers on earth: The Amazon. The Yasuni is crossed by the Napo River, the Tiputini River and the Shiripuno River, to name only a few. Certainly the most important mode of transportation in the rain forest is the canoe. The vast river network makes it possible to access to a lot of unique places.
Several indigenous communities live in the area of the Yasuni: the Waorani, the Kichwa, the Shuar, also the Tagaeri and the Taromenane. The last two are among the last indigenous tribes world wide who live in voluntary isolation from the outside world. It is estimated that 150-300 Taromenane still maintained there nomadic lifestyle in the rain forest along with an estimated number of 20-30 surviving Tagaeri. Since those tribes have been endangered by oil companies, the so called Untouchable Zone has been established in 1999. This initiative meant that the zone which comprises about 700,000 hectares will not be subject to oil exploitation at any time.
As the Yasuni is located in the very far east of Ecuador, very close to the border to Peru and not far from Brazil, the chance of getting in the past contacted or conquered by, for example, Spanish colonialists or the Incas, who came before, was very low. Nowadays, humans are much more resourceful in getting to unknown and isolated places. In particular, companies that seek to extract natural resources. Those companies try to discover all those places where lucrative natural resources and materials can be found. This provokes conflicts, though, both with nature and with the mentioned indigenous tribes.
When the current Ecuadorian government wanted to make a contribution to protect the global climate, the Yasuni got a lot of publicity worldwide. Ecuador tried to convince the international community, including foreign governments, to compensate missed revenues of not exploiting oil in the National Park to the Ecuadorian state. It has to be said, that the area has comparatively high reserves of oil. That is why the ITT-Yasuni-Initiative was intrduced.
ITT-Yasuni-Initiative was a project introduced by the Correa administration. This government run project implied a perpetual suspension of oil extraction in the Yasuni National Park, in particular the area called Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT). However, this suspension would only occur if Ecuador gets compensated by the international community. This compensation includes payments of $ 3.6 billion which would represent half of the revenue normally made from oil exploitation.
The project envisioned a transition from fossil fuel revenues to a sustainable economy in which funds are used to create jobs in sectors such as renewable energy while, at the same time, respecting biodiversity and social equality.
Nonetheless, this initiative was never successful which means that the exploitation of oil in the Yasuni is “back on the table.”
Ecuador has had bad experiences with the exploitation of oil. Or, for being more precise, with the irresponsible exploitation if oil. Texaco, which today is Chevron, left Ecuador in 1992 after having exploited a lot of oil in the Amazon and Yasuni area. When they left, an unprecedented pollution was left behind. Former employees and indigenous tribes of the area took the case of the environmental pollution to court. The case is still not brought to an end. But it seems as if Chevron won’t be indicted for its disastrous actions.
A much better alternative for supporting Ecuador economically is to travel to the Amazon area and the Yasuni. Without any question, this has to be in a very sustainable form, respecting both nature and indigenous people in the best way. But a trip to the Yasuni is highly recommended. The Yasuni Kichwa Ecolodge and the Napo Wildlife Center, for example, give you a great opportunity to get in touch with the rain forest, to explore real wildlife and to get an idea how the indigenous people live in this environment.