Activist’s amazing Amazon insight captured on film

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NICOLA PEEL is not one to get overwhelmed by the seemingly unachievable.

And with some of the deeply-distressing situations she’s found herself in, she would have every right to be.

Over many years Nicola has witnessed the devastating effects of mass oil consumption on indigenous communities in the Amazon basin.

Families living on the edge of toxic oil pits the size of Olympic swimming pools, rivers running black and saturated with dead fish, mass sickness from contaminated water, and the soil of the land, which has provided food for generations, blighted.

The damage wreaked by big oil companies – leading to the biggest environmental lawsuit in history – makes for an extremely depressing scenario, and one the West Sussex-born environmental activist has documented in her debut feature-length film Blood of the Amazon, which is shown here this weekend (April 28) by Transition Chichester.

But, for Nicola, 40, there has to be hope, and out of the bleakness shines the resilience of the Ecuadorian villagers, and the inspiring results of the practical measures they have put in place to ease their plight.

And these ‘solutions to the pollution’ – helping the communities make effective changes to their lives – are what motivates her.

“Over 30 years it has gradually become more and more polluted, and the people are drinking, washing and fishing in contaminated water.

“There are many accidents with the pits setting on fire and no-one can put them out and the sky will go totally black.

“Families are sick. Some are living in the shadow of huge gas flares.”

But, she says, her vision for the film, which has taken seven years to make, with smaller films in the Amazon shot along the way, was to give the indigenous people a voice.

“Their resilience is amazing.

“They are living in a place so contaminated and yet they keep positive, so it is not all doom and gloom.”

Nicola, who lives on her family’s Pulborough farm when she is not travelling, has a knack for making things happen, and taking a pragmatic approach to huge problems.

“My way of doing things is to be proactive,” she says.

“I identify the problem. So you may have the worst oil spills on the planet, but the priority is fresh water.

“Right now they need water.”

From this came simple rainwater catchment systems put in place, with the water filtered by charcoal, sand and small stones.

Nicola helps families put in 15 to 20 a year and she is now called ‘the water woman’.

She remembers a grandmother’s joy at tasting water that wasn’t tainted, didn’t taste of anything.

Another breakthrough was the use of local fungi as a cleaning agent for spills.

The film shows encounters with some incredible people, and adventures for the 
intrepid Nicola.

She bagged the last seat on a cramped plane taking tribe chiefs with their feather headdresses and spears to a remote village where they declared war on all mining, military action and logging on their ancestral lands.

And her hammock, mosquito net and cheery nature have seen her endure very basic living conditions.

But it is all very much taken in her stride.

- Blood of the Amazon, Jubilee Hall, New Park Centre, Chichester, April 28, 6.30pm, £5 (£3.50 students). Amazonian-themed refreshments. Visit www.eyesofgaia.com and www.transitionchichester.org for more information.