Peruvian, Panamanian Indians to use UAS to Protect Rainforests

Indigenous peoples of Peru and Panama plan to deploy drones to document rainforest pollution and destruction and help preserve their ancestral lands’ natural resources.

The first images taken by these unmanned aircraft were exhibited this week at the latest annual edition of the United Nations’ climate-change conference – known as COP20 and being held from Dec. 1-12 in Lima – and showed oil spills in Pacaya Samiria, a 2-million-hectare (7,720-sq.-mile) natural reserve in northern Peru that is that nation’s largest.

Project organizers told Efe that test flights showed evidence that crude from a Peruvian oil field operated by Argentine company Pluspetrol Norte had spilled from the Yanayacu-Saramuro pipeline and ended up in the Marañon River, an important Amazon tributary.

The images were captured in August during an inaugural drone workshop for indigenous rainforest guardians. The Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest, or Aidesep, an indigenous rights group, organized that event for members of the Kukama-Kukamiria community.

“We had never been able to prove it before, but with the drones we showed that the natural areas aren’t as protected as they say, and the photos can serve (as evidence) for any type of environmental (complaint) because they show the legal non-compliance and violations,” Aidesep forest specialist Wendy Pineda told Efe.

Representatives of Panama’s Embera Indian community, who plan to hold a similar workshop in their territory in January, also participated in the activity, which was arranged with support from the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests.

In Panama, drones are expected to help define each community’s forested area and calculate those zones’ potential for carbon capture, a pillar of the Lima negotiations on a new global climate accord, which is to be signed in 2015.

For its part, Peru’s Native Federation of the Madre de Dios River, or Fenamad, said it is interested in using drones to gather evidence of indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation “because this is the healthiest way to intervene” and try to ensure no one enters their territories, Pineda said.

The remotely controlled aircraft, which cost some $12,000 each, have a flight radius of 16 kilometers (10 miles) and travel at 60 kilometers (37 miles) per hour, are equipped with two cameras, including a GoPro action device.

“Community guardians can walk a maximum of six kilometers (3.7 miles) per day in the forest” and when they reach the block under development “they can’t enter because police are guarding the installations, but the drone covers much more space in a few hours and captures very revealing images,” Pineda said.

Aidesep’s current objective is to help Peruvian Indians assemble their own drones and ensure that each of that Peruvian organization’s 65 regional federations have one of these unmanned aerial vehicles.

Source: Latin American Herald Tribune

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