An oil spill at a refinery north of Lima on 15 January 2022 caused major damage. A UNEP/OCHA Joint Environment Unit (JEU) team, embedding environmental expertise, was deployed to assist the government-led response. The full environment mission report is accessible here.
An oil spill at a refinery north of Lima on 15 January 2022 caused at least 2,100 tons of oil to flow into the sea and drift northwards, affecting a marine zone 80 km long that includes protected areas home to marine life only found in the waters of Peru. Soon after the spill, oil that had been carried north by the flow of the Humboldt current immediately began affecting nearby waters and shorelines in Ventanilla, as well as the neighboring districts of Ancón, Aucallama, Chancay and Santa Rosa. Between the size of the spill and the vulnerability of the affected areas, the Government declared a 90-day environmental emergency and formally requested assistance from the United Nations in dealing with the various impacts brought about by the spill, considered one of the worst ecological disasters in Peru’s recent history.
Key environmental concerns in the aftermath of the incident included: i) contamination of large surfaces of water and coastline; ii) impacts on local wildlife, ecosystems and natural resources; and iii) impacts on local communities’ livelihoods, food security, and health.
To support the government-led response, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), through their Joint Environment Unit (JEU), deployed a team of response and technical experts, including experts from UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) and the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism (EUCPM) to Peru to assist the Government’s response. The team arrived in Lima on 22 January and began working with the UN System in Peru, which includes OCHA’s Humanitarian Advisory Team (HAT) within the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office (RCO), to engage with national and sub-national Government offices and support coordination among more than 30 State institutions. The team also met with technical staff from Repsol, the refinery’s operating company.
The main objective of the overall mission was to advise the Government through technical assistance on containment and clean-up, on managing and coordinating response to the spill’s environmental and socioeconomic impacts and on reducing the risk of future oil spill disasters.
The mission outcomes showed that the visible short-term impacts on vibrant ecosystems is only a glimpse into the potential effects on mortality and biodi
versity in coming months and years. These impacts may even have consequences for human health, as subsistence fishing often targets edible species that might be exposed to the oil’s harmful long-term effects. With long term-considerations such as these, implementing an environmental monitoring plan will help to understand the full extent of the contamination, assess socioeconomic impact and recovery times and help determine the effectiveness of clean-up operations.