Indigenous leaders: stop oil drilling in the Amazon

Fearing the economic pain inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic may encourage politicians to pursue more oil drilling in the Amazon, indigenous leaders are calling for help to stop companies drilling in the waters.

Domingo Peas: "The Amazon purifies the air for the entire continent. Therefore it is important to no longer extract oil because the oil and mining destroy the river."

That is Domingo Peas, a member of Ecuador's 18,000 strong Achuar, one of 20 indigenous nationalities living in an area often referred to as the Amazon Sacred Headwaters.

There - existing and proposed oil and gas blocks cover 280,000 square miles, or an area larger than Texas - according to a December report by international advocacy groups.

Oil is currently being extracted from 7 percent of these blocks.

Leaks from their pipelines pollute rivers used for drinking water, harming people and wildlife.

And now, amid the pandemic, the indigenous groups that live in the area which straddles the Peru-Ecuador border are sounding the alarm.

In video shared with Reuters on Friday - the International Day for Biological Diversity - communities in Peru and Ecuador said pressure to exploit their territory would intensify as governments seek to reboot economies reeling from the virus.

The communities have had some success in using lawsuits to block new exploration.

But past oil and mining projects suggest that carving new roads through the trackless landscapes can trigger rapid deforestation.

That was underscored last year when massive fires broke out in the Amazon, triggering a global uproar.