Peru Village Sees Few Gains From Natural Gas Project The Camisea gas project funnels millions of dollars into government coffers and promises Western development to Peruvian communities. There have been schools, health clinics and other initiatives. But the benefits are hard to see in the village of Shimaa.
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Peru Village Sees Few Gains From Natural Gas Project

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Peru Village Sees Few Gains From Natural Gas Project

Peru Village Sees Few Gains From Natural Gas Project

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SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

Countries looking for cleaner, more environmentally-friendly sources of energy will find natural gas at the top of the list. Peru has large reserves, but in the Peruvian Amazon, natural gas extraction has become a contentious issue. Gas is being pumped from beneath indigenous communities, but many who live there say it's failed to bring meaningful development. Annie Murphy reports from Peru.

ANNIE MURPHY: Several days' travel from the ruins at Machu Picchu, dropping into the thick heat and greenery of the Upper Amazon, lies the village of Shimaa. Dozens of simple buildings hug a hillside above a river and far below, a few kids play on a soccer field at the water's edge.

The nearby Camisea gas fields hold over 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The pipeline that carries it out runs right under Shimaa, which is home to the indigenous Machiguenga. Mariana Masuyu is a slender, freckled mother of four. She says her life is actually getting harder because of the gas.

Ms. MARIANA MASUYU: (through translator) Before the gas companies came, there was plenty of fish in the river and I'd go fishing with my husband. That's how we'd feed our kids. Now that the gas is being pumped out, there's contamination and there aren't enough fish to feed us. So, the only option is to go to the market and buy canned tuna and noodles. That's how we survive.

MURPHY: The Camisea gas project funnels millions of dollars into government coffers, and promises Western development to local communities. And there have been schools, health clinics, and other initiatives.

(Soundbite of helicopter)

MURPHY: But in Shimaa, the benefits are hard to see. There's noise pollution from helicopters that fly overheard, scaring away wildlife, and water pollution from gas spills and erosion. Locals say it all affects their ability to catch and grow their own food.

Plinio Kategari is vice president of the Machiguenga Council, known as COMARU, which is based in the provincial capital of Quillabamba.

Mr. PLINIO KATEGARI (Vice President, Machiguenga Council): (through translator) Indigenous people have been considered enemies of development. But we want development - just not the sort of Western development that comes and wipes everything away. We want development that has an identity too, where the environment is protected, where human beings can still exist, and have the things they need to live.

MURPHY: This is an isolated region of lush hills, rivers, and perilous, badly kept dirt roads. It's home to about two-dozen Machiguenga communities. Gas exploration began back in the '80s, and at this point, the Machiguenga feel the project is unavoidable. Now, they just want a standard of living on par with that of the people benefitting from the gas - meaning ample clean water, food, light, education, and access to technology. They'd also like to be able to use some of the gas running under their land.

Economist and Camisea expert, Humberto Campodonico.

Mr. HUMBERTO CAMPODONICO (Economist): It is in their territory that the gas has been found, and they are not consuming it because the pipeline comes only to Lima, or to the sea.

MURPHY: That pipeline runs straight from the Amazon, over the Andes, and down to the Pacific without providing gas to the Machiguenga.

Carlos Cuadros supervises relations with area indigenous communities for TGP, the company that pipes the gas. He thinks indigenous people should be worried about other things.

Mr. CARLOS CUADROS (Supervisor, TGP): (through translator) It's not our responsibility to bring gas to these communities. We don't want to do a task that the state should take care of. We're not here to give handouts. And to start with, you need means of communication, which we are lacking. In a lot of indigenous communities there isn't even cell phone reception; in others there isn't electricity. I think that those issues will have to be dealt with first.

MURPHY: For now, in Shimaa, most people seem more worried about food than gas anyway - what to eat, and how to get it cheaply, now that they have to buy it. A few months ago, the gas company, TGP, gave the community a tank to use as a fish farm.

Jose Kategari, one of the local leaders in Shimaa:

Mr. JOSE KATEGARI: (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: Considering that there aren't fish in the river anymore, he says, I guess it's better to farm them. That way we'll be able to feed our families.

But when I ask to see the Machiguenga's new fish farm, Kategari acts embarrassed.

Mr. KATEGARI: (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: We still don't have any fish in it, he says. We're hoping that in a few weeks the company will give them to us.

For NPR News, I'm Annie Murphy in Quillabamba, Peru.

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