Amazon indigenous groups raise own funds to fight coronavirus
May 08, 2020
By Anthony Boadle
Indigenous groups from nine countries in the Amazon basin are calling for donations to help protect 3 million rainforest inhabitants who are vulnerable to the spread of the novel coronavirus because they lack adequate access to healthcare.
They said the failure of regional governments to consider the needs of indigenous people in their plans for curbing the pandemic made it imperative to find other funding to buy food, medicine and basic protective equipment such as masks.
The Amazon Emergency Fund aims to raise $US3 million ($4.6 million) in the next two weeks and $US5 million over 60 days, its organisers at the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Basin (COICA) said.
"We cannot wait any longer for our governments ... We are in danger of extinction," said Jose Gregorio Diaz Mirabal, general coordinator of COICA and a member of the Wakuenai Kurripaco people of Venezuela.
The new virus has already infected 180 of the 600 indigenous tribes of the Amazon basin and killed 33 of their members in a single month, he said.
The Brazilian Senate approved on Wednesday a 60 billion-real ($16 billion) aid package for the nation's cities and states, which are facing higher social welfare costs and decreasing revenue amid the pandemic.
The indigenous fund will be fiscally sponsored by the Rainforest Foundation US, a not-for-profit that works to protect jungles in Central and South America.
Grants will be managed by a governing council that includes indigenous representatives and the foundation will be responsible for wiring funds directly to grantees’ accounts.
The foundation's executive director, Suzanne Pelletier, said indigenous communities were the guardians of the rainforest, whose survival was critical for maintaining life on Earth.
"This pandemic is not only a humanitarian emergency, it is also an environmental emergency," she said. "Indigenous people across the Amazon are the last line of defence against forest destruction and our best hope of mitigating climate change."
It comes as Brazil's new health minister said strict lockdowns would be needed to prevent the spread of the virus in Latin America's most populous country, where deaths have hit a new high of more than 600 two days in a row. So far, only some states have been under stay-at-home orders issued by governors who disagree with President Jair Bolsonaro's dismissal of the pandemic as "hysteria". Brazil has recorded more than 126,000 infections and 8588 deaths as of Wednesday (Thursday AEST).
Bolsonaro's spokesman is the latest member of his entourage to test positive for the virus, his office said on Wednesday, raising further questions about the President's account that he twice tested negative. A federal judge has ordered his actual test results be released.
The call for an emergency fund for the Amazon people followed a dire warning of the risk of ethnocide made on Sunday by dozens of international artists, musicians, actors, writers and scientists including Ai Weiwei, Sting, Paul McCartney, Glenn Close and Sylvester Stalone, in a letter to Bolsonaro urging him to protect Brazil's indigenous population.
The "extreme threat" faced by indigenous people in Brazil was amplified by invasions of protected tribal lands by illegal miners, loggers and cattle ranchers, the letter warned.
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