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The endangered lives of the Ashaninka

The hydroelectric project on the river Ene could destroy the land where 10,000 indigenous people live and further deteriorate their living conditions, especially that of the children who do not have access to a school and 82% of them live in chronic malnutrition.


Asháninka 04
De David Hill/Survival

O. Briasco


The Amazon rainforest, which covers 60% of the Peruvian territory is one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet.

Furthermore, it plays a fundamental role in counteracting global warming. It is also home to more than 30,000 indigenous people, they live using resources provided by Mother Nature in which their spirituality and social interactions are rooted.

The town of Ashaninka with 90,000 people is the biggest settlement in the Amazon, 10,000 live in the basin of the river Ene.

Their situation means that they are surrounded by workers felling trees, drilling for oil, with deforestation apparent and migration to towns and cities frequent.

Asháninka 02In the words of the Rainforest Foundation, these activities are undertaken without respecting the rights of the indigenous citizens, which have been consigned in national laws and in international agreements approved by the Peruvian government.

To contribute to showing them respect and helping the Ashaninka to live in harmony, the Rainforest Foundation has been working on a humanitarian project since 2002, which is beginning to show results.

Their work centres on eradicating the double-pronged problem currently affecting the indigenous people in the valley, the lack of clear territory borders and the negative impact of felling trees, which is happening very near some communities.

De Pedro França-MinC
De Pedro França-MinC

Therefore, the organisation has established borders between each community and the communal Ashaninka reserve. So far, borders have been assigned to over 160 kilometres of the area. This has made it possible for 17 communities to have legal titles for their territories.

This has also facilitated the “identification of the areas where illegal tree felling takes place” and strategies have been formulated to “avoid exploitation and abuse of wood processing companies and manage the felling of trees in the most transparent and sustainable way”, actions which along with capitalisation have been put to the population about environmental issues and the defence of their rights.

Holding back the dam

In 2010 another problem arose, the Peruvian government signed an agreement with Brazil for the construction of a series of hydroelectric dams in various Peruvian rivers, including those in the Amazonian region.

Asháninka 10 (© Pedro França_MinC)
Por Pedro França-MinC

It is specifically about the dam in Pakitzapango, whose reservoir would flood 73,000 hectares of forestland and would affect the population who live along the Ene River. It is also regarding the dam being built in the Tambo River in the North of the country.

The Rainforest Foundation denounces both projects as they could “cause irreparable damage in the forests that the Ashaninka live in” and they have gone ahead “without consulting the townspeople who would be affected”.

The organisation stresses that “national legislation and international standards regarding the indigenous public’s rights, which the Peruvian government has approved have been violated.

With this argument, and in collaboration with CARE (Central Ashaninka of the River Ene) they have managed to get the Brazilian company Odebrecht who built both dams to withdraw from the projects “as a sign of respect to the opinions of the local communities”.

Por Klaus Schönitzer
Por Klaus Schönitzer

Despite the progress that has been made, the organisation emphasises the need to strengthen the local organisations’ capability to manage natural reserves by monitoring illegal tree felling and pushing forward plans for territorial management to add the protection of the reserve to a scheme of forest protection.

These measures are in addition to giving the necessary tools to the communities so that they are able to continue developing their cocoa business in an independent and long-lasting way.

A Bleak Future

Asháninka 14 (© Pedro França MinC)
Pedro França-MinC

The self sufficiency of the indigenous populations is taught to them from their infancy.

Nevertheless, the lack of infrastructure in the educational system means that thousands of Ashaninka children are forced to study in poor conditions.

According to CARE’s data, in the basin of the river Ene there are over 2,000 primary school children for 39 schools, 26 of which are Single Teacher Schools, that is to say an institution that only has one teacher for the whole school.

These are children who in many cases have serious health problems. In fact 82% of children who attend the Port Ashaninka Union Health Centre suffer from malnutrition, taken from the data collected by CARE in the districts of Mazamari, River Tambo and Pangoa in the province of Satipo.

De Pedro França-MinC
De Pedro França-MinC

The report entitled “The State of the Childhood of the Indigenous Child in Peru” written by Unicef in 2010 corroborates this situation. It also points out that the indigenous population which is native to the Amazon is very young (with 24% being between 3 and 5 years old).

They are also very poor, with around half of all the children and adolescents live in extreme poverty.

In addition, it highlights that less than 15% of girls and boys from Amazonian ethnic groups have access to good sources of water and hygiene (drains) in their homes.

Asháninka 07
Por Asier Solana Bermejo

Malnutrition is the inequality of opportunities as, according to medical studies, 90% of the human brain is formed in the first three years of a child’s life and its development is dependent on the quantity and the quality of the nutrients that they ingest.

This is something that Doctor Mario Tavera, Health Official of Unicef in Peru, focused on in an interview that he gave to the newspaper El Comercio, “The State cannot speak of a growth in the Country’s Social Inclusion because malnutrition is a factor which works against the development of equality of the towns.”

He went on to say that “not all children in the country begin their development in life in the same way, for example the Ashaninka children are not even considered in plans for childhood nutrition”.

Their diet is based on cassava, plantain and occasionally fish. However, the oil tankers that contaminate rivers and consequently, the fish, threaten to eradicate the children’s only food source that is rich in vitamins.

Due to all this, it is evident that it is not only necessary to stop the hydroelectric project on the river Ene, but also to change the future which the Ashaninka appear to be driving towards and which far from improving their situation, would worsen it.


(Translated by Frances Singer – Email:

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