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Ecuadorean government aims to stop one road from going into Amazon

  • One can only enter the province via plane or river boat; the local roadways don’t connect to all parts of the province.
  • The government argues that the road project doesn’t follow the technical and environmental norms, and as it is, it affects the water, soil, and vegetation in the area.
  • The environment ministry will design a management plan for the Kutukú-Shaimi Protected Forest.

The province of Morona Santiago is located in the middle of Ecuador’s Amazon region, and is home to the Shuar and Achuar indigenous peoples. Its most famous landmark, Sangay National Park, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO with the hope of saving the region from an increase in illegal logging and hunting, from road construction, and land invasions close to its perimeter that began in the eighties.

Thanks to this park, ecotourism has turned into the main driver of the regional economy. But the sector has brought few benefits for the majority of its residents. One can only enter Morona Santiago via airplane or river boats; local roads don’t connect all parts of the province.

The Ebenezer-Macuma-Taisha highway promised change and work opportunities. On July 1, 2001, the project received its first environmental license, followed by another on August 2, 2007. By now, only three more miles need to be paved along the Ebenezer-Macuma-Taisha highway in order to finish it, so that the distance between Macas and Taisha can be traveled in a record three hours.

However, according to the Ministry of Environment (MAE), by the end of 2014 the federal government suddenly turned against the project –and in particular, against the governor of Morona Santiago. According to official documents, Governor Marcelino Chumpi is the only one responsible for the condition of the road project which fails to meet technical and environmental norms and, as-is, has affected the water, soil, and vegetation in the area.

Approximately 15 miles of the road cross into the Kutukú and Shaimi Protected Forest that occupies 311,500 hectares –one of the largest in the country.

Many months have passed since the Ecuadorean government interfered in the infrastructure project. Work on the road has come to a halt amidst violent conflicts with the indigenous population, road blockades, and even the occupation of government buildings in the province capital, Macas.

In an interview with El Telégrafo newspaper, Antonio Shiki of the local Taisha community argues that around 27,000 people would benefit from the highway. It is estimated that only about 10 percent of the project remains to be done in order to have the completed and functional 124-mile road.

While most of the local residents of Morona Santiago are asking the government to grant a new environmental license, the Environment Ministry says it will design a Management Plan for the Kutukú-Shaimi Protected Forest, where experts believe there are at least 480 species of birds, 51 mammal species, 81 amphibians, and 41 reptiles.

“The Management Plan update with include a financing strategy, management and conservation for the area, viable alternatives for the sustainable use of resources, as well as the equitable distribution of benefits and improved living conditions of the communities involved,” explains a recent press release.

Deforestation in Ecuador since 2004. Image courtesy of Terra-i and InfoAmazonia.