A call to protect and support rainforest peoples from COVID-19

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A call to protect and support rainforest peoples from COVID-19

A joint statement from the Rainforest Foundations of Norway, UK, and US
The novel coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world is quickly reshaping everyone’s lives in ways very few people could have imagined.

Unfortunately, for indigenous peoples and traditional forest populations around the globe, there is nothing novel about this pandemic.

It is estimated that the measles, malaria, and influenza that came with colonization was responsible for two-thirds of the deaths in indigenous Amazonian communities between 1875 and 2008. More recently, the Ebola crisis has devastated local communities in Central and West Africa.

Today, rainforest peoples already experience disproportionate rates of infection and illness resulting from lower levels of immunity to Western diseases. In the Amazon, there are dozens–maybe even hundreds–of unique indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation. With little or no contact with the outside world, they are at even greater risk of infection. Weak local health care systems are largely ill-prepared to meet the needs of routine services, let alone the level of response this pandemic demands.

Past and present, these experiences reveal that rainforest peoples may be particularly vulnerable to the devastating effects of COVID-19. Meanwhile, the unrelenting encroachment on their traditional lands for resource extraction, agribusiness and associated infrastructure development severely threatens them with exposure to the virus.

This is why the Rainforest Foundations of Norway, UK, and US have joined together to support the calls of indigenous peoples’ organizations and those of traditional forest communities from across the world to mitigate the extraordinary threat posed by COVID-19.

We join them to reiterate – to governments at all levels, to industry, civil society, houses of worship, to all those whom live or work near traditional communities, and to the broader international community – their appeals to: 

1. Enforce strict travel restrictions to indigenous people and forest community territories wherever possible and in coordination with local indigenous and community leaders. This is especially true for populations living in voluntary isolation.

2. Effective measures such as Brazil’s no-contact policy should be enforced.Ensure that medical outposts near indigenous and traditional people’s territories are well equipped and staffed with qualified personnel.

3. When a vaccine is developed, ensure it quickly reaches the most vulnerable.

4. Ensure that all public health alerts and information are translated into local and indigenous languages and are widely broadcast.

5. Consult early with local and indigenous leadership in any decisions that affect them, especially in anticipation of possible coronavirus outbreaks in their territories.

Protecting the rainforest and defending the rights of those who are their true guardians–indigenous peoples and traditional forest populations–is vital to the protection of life on Earth as we know it. Science proves that forests protected and managed these groups store more carbon, harbor more biodiversity, and experience lower rates of deforestation than any other forest management systems.

While this pandemic reminds us of the vulnerability faced by the guardians of the world’s rainforests, it is in the interests of us at all times to protect them and the forests they call home.

May you all stay well and safe.

Rainforest Foundation Norway
Rainforest Foundation United Kingdom
Rainforest Foundation United States

About Rainforest Foundation

Rainforest Foundation was founded 30 years ago to promote the rights of indigenous peoples living in the rainforest and to support them and other forest communities in their effort to protect and defend their territories. Since its founding, the Rainforest Foundations of Norway, the UK and the US have together supported indigenous peoples’ efforts to protect more than 13 million hectares across four continents.

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In the News: How crypto will change the face of charity

In the News: How crypto will change the face of charity

How crypto will change the face of charity: Cryptocurrency donations are set to rise as charities embrace the technology’s transparency, immutability and traceability.

By Robert Stevens
Originally published Mar 28, 2020 on decrypt.co linked HERE

In brief

  • Charities are opening their doors to cryptocurrency donations and crypto projects.
  • Leaders from the field see 2020 as a turning point in charitable crypto adoption.
  • Charities will increasingly hold crypto donations without immediately converting them to fiat currency.
  • Cryptocurrencies and charities seem like a match made in heaven. Transparency, immutability, and traceability: everything charities need to work effectively.

Correspondingly, charities are opening their doors to both crypto donations and crypto projects. Binance has raised millions (albeit, mostly from money it’s donated to itself) for charity projects, and United Nations organizations such as UNICEF have incorporated blockchain technology into many of their work and fundraising campaigns. Countless others have followed suit.

So how will crypto change the face of charity? We asked leaders who straddle the divide between crypto and charity to share their thoughts. Here’s what they said.

Crypto donations will rise

Alex Wilson, of The Giving Block, a platform that helps charities accept crypto donations, is, perhaps unsurprisingly, optimistic. “We think 2020 is really going to be a turning point for nonprofit adoption of cryptocurrencies. We already saw the amount of nonprofits accepting crypto double last year,” he told Decrypt. Still, “double”, in this context, means an increase from, er, 1% to 2%.

However, Wilson said that in the past few years, crypto donations have totaled hundreds of millions of dollars—and when the market’s performing well, charities receive more crypto donations. At the height of the Bitcoin bubble in December 2017, an anonymous do-gooder, “Pine,” set up the Pineapple Fund, which gave away up to $86 million in Bitcoin to various charities over its lifetime.

Wilson said 2019 saw nothing like that, but there were “still a lot of multi-million dollar donations,” like a $4.2 million donation to Carnegie Mellon. “I think as soon as the market picks up, you’re going to start seeing more things like the Pineapple Fund popping back up,” he said.

But the state of the crypto market aside, Wilson said that in 2020 and beyond, crypto donations will rise because those holding crypto, generally millennials and their juniors, have begun to enter the workforce en masse. Charities “want to start building these lifelong relationships with the younger donors who are in their twenties and thirties,” said Wilson. “When they hear stats like ’20% of millennials own cryptocurrency’, that’s really exciting for them because they really struggle to connect with younger donors.”

“That’s why I’ve spent five years working on this,” said Suzanne Pelletier, executive director of the Rainforest Foundation US, a New York City-based charity. “I’m really convinced that the market will just get bigger and bigger and, by default, the size of philanthropy in that group will increase,” she said. More and more use cases are being created, and that’ll create value in the network, Pelletier says, though she acknowledges she’s by no means an authority on the matter. Still, the Rainforest Foundation US isn’t making big bucks from Bitcoin just yet: from a budget of over $3 million, just $17,000 was raised from Giving Tuesday in 2019.

Ettore Rossetti, head of global digital at Save the Children, wonders who the next Pine will be—and hopes that, by continuing to support cryptocurrencies, he’ll persuade the next anonymous philanthropist to send some Bitcoin his way the next time the market surges. The charity first started supporting crypto in 2013 in response to Typhoon Haiyan. Since then, “we haven’t raised millions of dollars” through cryptocurrencies,” he said, but “tens of thousands of dollars.”

He thinks part of the reason for a lacklustre amount of donations is that, though more people are getting into donations, speculators are likely to HODL—their reasoning being that a $100 donation to starving children now could become a $100,000 donation when Bitcoin’s price goes to the moon. If it does.

Charities keep more crypto donations in crypto

“I think we’ll start seeing some of the nonprofits getting more comfortable with actually holding on to the donations and not necessarily always converting them,” said The Giving Block’s Wilson.

For now, the Rainforest Foundation US converts donations in crypto right away. “Our board just decided we’d treat them under the same policy that we have with stocks,” converting them immediately to “decrease our risk,” said Pelletier. However, the charity’s far from stuck in the past: In 2015, The Rainforest Foundation, in fact, created its own token, BitSeeds, which ran for a while on Bittrex before being delisted. Save the Children also converts crypto donations to fiat straight away, said Rossetti.

But Christina Lomazzo, who heads blockchain for the United Nations’ children’s charity, UNICEF, has taken the plunge. In October, UNICEF started accepting cryptocurrencies without immediately converting them to fiat, the first time a UN agency has done so. There were three reasons for doing so. The first, for transparency; the second, to move assets around at speed; the third, to experiment, said Lomazzo.

UNICEF’s just dangling its toes in crypto’s drainpipe for now: to date, it’s made three investments, totalling one Bitcoin and a hundred Ether (worth around $30,000 at the time), disbursed into three blockchain companies who’d already received prior investment from UNICEF. Soon, UNICEF will open a call for another round of funding, and companies will be able to receive up to $100,000 in Ethereum or Bitcoin.

Charities will work with blockchain and crypto more

If donations don’t pan out, the Rainforest Foundation, like a growing number of other charities, is working on integrating blockchain into one of its projects. It’s using blockchain to integrate satellite data for deforestation in the Peruvian rainforest. Then, after training leaders of indigenous communities to analyze that data, the Foundation will have members of their communities collect evidence of deforestation.

Recording tasks such as these on a blockchain, said Pelletier, makes it easy to reward community members on the blockchain; otherwise, remunerating members of communities is “just too onerous a process.” But, “within the next year or two, the communities themselves will have the wallets and the transactions will go directly to that,” she said.

Raphaël Mazet, of Alice, a blockchain company that’s geared around social impact, told Decrypt that blockchain and crypto has a bright future in the charity sector. “Public trust in nonprofits has been declining for years, and it’s starting to affect donation levels, especially amongst smaller donors. Crypto provides a transparent payment trail showing how the money was used,” he said.

He spoke not of the “accountability to donors,” which “can be dangerous if it leads to charities slashing overhead costs to unsustainable levels or catering to donor vanity metrics,” but of the “the operational efficiencies they can gain from blockchain technology: automated reporting, giving agency to their beneficiaries, and scalability.”

However, with charities bracing themselves for a hit to fundraising activities as coronavirus lockdown measures take effect, they may have other things on their mind than crypto adoption.

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Rainforest Foundation US is tackling the major challenges of our day: deforestation, the climate crisis, and human rights violations. Your donation moves us one step closer to creating a more sustainable and just future.

Indigenous peoples in the Amazon mobilize to prevent COVID-19

Indigenous peoples in the Amazon mobilize to prevent COVID-19

Members of different indigenous communities in Peru share the infographic made by, and for, indigenous peoples. Indigenous coordinator Enoc Chanchari Garcia explains the graphic to women in the Tikuna community of Buen Jardin del Callaru

Indigenous peoples across the Western hemisphere are mobilizing quickly to inform their communities of COVID-19, repurposing existing networks and technologies to share information from national and international experts.

Indigenous communities are vulnerable to disease due to their historically marginalized economic and social status, their remote location, and, all too often, the lack of easy access to medical facilities. Where there is access, medical facilities can be under-served and under-resourced. As a result, under normal circumstances, community members often do not receive adequate treatment. Many community members suffer from underlying, chronic conditions such as diabetes, malaria, dengue, dysentery and malnutrition, among others. Meanwhile, they can also experience a naturally low immunity to exotic diseases. Traditional customs of communal living and eating further increase the risk of indigenous peoples contracting and spreading COVID-19.

Informing citizens of the dos and don’ts to prevent infection is key to contain the spread of the virus. In much of Latin America, however, useful and verified information doesn’t always reach vulnerable and remote populations, including indigenous peoples, and misinformation is in abundance.

Francisco Hernandez Cayetano shares the infographic with members of the Yagua community of Eden de la Frontera

To address this, indigenous peoples are taking proactive measures to inform their communities and prevent the spread of COVID-19. In Peru, the Indigenous People’s Organization of the Eastern Amazon (Organización Regional de los Pueblos Indígenas del Oriente, or ORPIO) prepared their own culturally-relevant infographics to reach the 430 member communities of ORPIO across the northern Amazonian region of Loreto.

Distribution of these infographics have been accelerated across the region in particular thanks to the existing network of community-based forest monitors that Rainforest Foundation US supported ORPIO to design and implement. In the absence of printing facilities, community monitors have downloaded the infographic onto the phones and tablets that they normally use to track deforestation and are now using them to present the information to members of their communities.

Thanks to this network of monitors implemented with the support of Rainforest Foundation US, we have managed to inform the most remote indigenous communities. This information has been collected from official sources such as the World Health Organization and the Peruvian government’s Ministry of Health. Though ORPIO is not a health institution, but an indigenous organization, we are organizing to inform ourselves to confront this pandemic together.

— Jorge Pérez Rubio, President of ORPIO

Fernando Geman Sandi presents COVID-19 information to a community assembly in Copal Urco.

Rainforest Foundation US is now supporting the translation of the infographic into other languages to reach indigenous communities in other countries across the Amazon and Mesoamerica. The infographic is available below in a number of languages. This list will be updated as new country versions are developed.

If you are an indigenous people’s organization or network and find that these infographics could be useful for outreach to communities in other countries or languages, please do not hesitate to contact .

Peru

Panama

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Rainforest Foundation US is tackling the major challenges of our day: deforestation, the climate crisis, and human rights violations. Your donation moves us one step closer to creating a more sustainable and just future.

Rainforest Foundation US’s response to COVID-19

COVID-health-center-photo

Rainforest Foundation US’s response to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is on everyone’s mind, including ours at Rainforest Foundation US. We want to share with you some reflections from our team and the steps we are taking to address the potential impact of this virus on the indigenous communities we work with.

Indigenous communities are exceptionally vulnerable to disease, not to mention epidemics. Volumes have been written on the effects of smallpox, measles and other viruses – many of them intentionally introduced – on indigenous populations during the colonization of the Americas. Without millennia of exposure to Western viruses, many indigenous peoples have experienced reduced immunity to illnesses as innocuous as the common cold. As recently as 2018, the Yanomami in northern Brazil suffered a devastating measles outbreak introduced by illegal gold miners.

Indigenous communities are often located in remote regions with very little access to health care. While geographic isolation can buffer them from many of the contemporary disease-enabling environments such as airports and subways, it only takes one infected visitor from the outside to introduce a new illness to a community. Public health facilities in indigenous communities – if they exist at all – are often understaffed and severely under-equipped to deal with serious outbreaks. Meanwhile, diseases like dengue fever and malaria have ravaged indigenous communities for decades, and treatments are often inadequate for even well-understood diseases.

We see the outbreak of COVID-19 as the result of many of the same pressures that we and our partners struggle against every day: the climate crisis, deforestation, threats to food security and the marginalization of rural communities. COVID-19 is a virus that originated in animals and was passed to humans, like SARS, MERS, Ebola and bird flu. Deforestation and the climate crisis are putting increased pressure on wildlife-human interactions and are a clear and strong driver of infectious disease transmission.

Meanwhile, remedies to curb pandemics may in fact lie in the biodiversity of the rainforests. Tropical forests have thus far supplied the ingredients of up to 25% of modern Western drugs. But providing these remedies can only happen if we protect the forests and the people who know them best, in particular the forest resources and the healers and cultural practitioners who have held this knowledge for generations. Safeguarding these solutions can only begin with guaranteeing indigenous peoples’ rights.

Fortunately, the majority of the activities Rainforest Foundation US supports are conducted by indigenous community members who do not need to leave their home territories. Despite this, Rainforest Foundation US has suspended further travel to countries and communities in which we work and will continue to comply with all health guidelines being issued by authorities in Peru, Guyana, Brazil, Panama and the USA.

While there have been cases reported in all of the countries in which Rainforest Foundation US works, none of our partners nor their communities have yet reported cases of COVID-19. We will continue to monitor the situation closely, along with our partners.

Through our advocacy, Rainforest Foundation US continues to raise awareness about the lack of health care for indigenous communities, especially as deforestation and degradation of landscapes has reduced the availability of traditional medicines, impacted water quality and exposed communities to viruses that they would not otherwise encounter.

Our thoughts are with the people across the world who have been affected by this pandemic.

Rainforest Foundation US

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Support Our Work

Rainforest Foundation US is tackling the major challenges of our day: deforestation, the climate crisis, and human rights violations. Your donation moves us one step closer to creating a more sustainable and just future.

Daniela supports the overall administration of Rainforest Foundation US’s work in Peru, with a recent focus on supporting the program’s COVID-19 response. Prior to joining Rainforest Foundation, Formerly, Daniela administered the Casa Andina hotel network in Peru. She holds a degree in Business Administration and is a native Spanish language speaker.