An unprecedented report details the progress of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Yanomami Indigenous Territory, suggesting that one in three individuals may have already been infected by the new coronavirus.
Rainforest Foundation Response to COVID-19
The COVID-19 crisis is disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations, and indigenous communities are no exception. Rainforest Foundation US (RFUS) recognizes that this crisis will worsen in the short term as the virus spreads, and is planning for efficient responses both in the short term as well as in the longer term as communities work to recover from the economic and social impacts of the crisis. RFUS has engaged in an array of emergency response solutions that leverage existing relationships, networks and tools, while also seeking new collaboration and investments from a variety of organizations, including governments, foundations, other non-profits, and on-the-ground partners.
RFUS is both a forest protection organization and a human rights organization. As such, we take our role in protecting the lives of indigenous peoples just as seriously as our role in supporting them to protect forests. This crisis is personal. Our partners are family.
How the COVID-19 Crisis is Affecting Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous communities are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. While there is no evidence to suggest that indigenous peoples’ immune systems are more susceptible to the COVID-19 virus than other populations, as has been the case with many introduced diseases in the past, impoverished community members often suffer from chronic health conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease that can increase the risk of extreme illness and death from the virus. Meanwhile, indigenous peoples’ communal lifestyles, remote locations, and the lack of health care services mean that outbreaks in indigenous communities are pervasive and difficult to address. Indigenous elders – key to a community’s social fabric and holders of vast knowledge about rainforest land and life – are especially at risk. RFUS staff have received the regrettable news that older members of indigenous communities in the Amazon have died from coronavirus simply because a five dollar oxygen tank did not arrive in time, or because they could not make it to a hospital.
How Rainforest Foundation US is Tackling the COVID-19 Crisis
From the moment the pandemic hit Latin America, in early 2020, RFUS has been working around the clock to provide communities with four primary types of assistance:
Information and Communication
Indigenous organizations across the Amazon (and elsewhere) immediately recommended that communities go into voluntary self-isolation. Seeing that there was a lack of appropriate information, we have worked together to produce posters, radio spots, and videos in indigenous languages to share with communities, to inform them of the seriousness of the pandemic, and key prevention measures.
Support provided through September 2020: US$ 19,027
Many communities are safest if they stay in place, which means that they minimize exposure to visitors and travel to outbreak areas. Therefore, it is difficult to sell goods and access some basic necessities, such as fuel, cooking oil, and salt, they have come to rely on. In order to support their self-isolation, our partners have initiated campaigns to raise funds and supplies.
Support provided through September 2020: US$ 77,760
Medical Supplies and Protective Equipment
Indigenous organizations are actively coordinating with the government to fulfill its duty to provide medical supplies and equipment, PPE and disinfection kits to both leaders and monitors staffing barriers, as well as to indigenous health workers. Now that the disease is spreading more widely, these supplies have become all the more important.
Support provided through September 2020: US$ 171,606
Supporting Sustainable Economic Activities
Remote indigenous communities, most of whom live in extreme poverty, are particularly vulnerable to the short-term and long term impacts COVID-19 Crisis. Quarantine measures, and the overall paralyzation of global trade and travel are already making a bad situation worse. Therefore, RFUS and indigenous organizations are developing strategies and projects which will allow for these communities to generate income in a safe manner.
Support provided through September 2020: US$ 11,000
The COVID-19 crisis is a challenge to leaders around the world. This issue is particularly manifest for indigenous organizations and leaders operating in areas that have been historically neglected and lack any public services. It is also an opportunity to strengthen local, regional and national indigenous governance systems. This is a cornerstone of our work across tropical Latin America, but something we’ve found hard to describe, as it’s hard to measure and quantify. We couldn’t be more impressed with how our partners are responding to the crisis. Indigenous organizations in Peru, Brazil, Guyana and Panama are quickly adapting their organizational structures and capacities to step up and address the unique demands of a global pandemic that steadily seeps into the most distant corners of the forest.
Leveraging Technology for COVID-19 Relief
Rainforest Foundation US is leveraging our extensive network of tech-enabled indigenous partners. Hundreds of remote field monitors who – under normal circumstances – carry out the important role of detecting and documenting illegal deforestation are bending these skills and tools towards capturing critical health information in communities. Indigenous data managers who compile evidence of deforestation and other land threats are now also filling their databases with information on health care issues and keeping state agencies abreast of emergent priorities. Indigenous leaders and administrators – accustomed to pursuing criminal cases and working the levers of regional governments to stop illegal deforestation – are leaning their skills, connections and political influence into improved government and international responses to COVID-19 and ongoing deforestation threats.
Deforestation During Coronavirus
While immediate response to the coronavirus emergency is a priority, we are also addressing the numerous secondary effects of the virus, such as increased logging, mining and illegal border crossings that threaten indigenous livelihoods every bit as much as the virus itself. Illegal loggers and miners are not staying home and observing social distance. In fact, these actors are exploiting the new gaps in environmental governance, with inspections and other activities on hold due to the pandemic (and weakening of environmental regulations even before the pandemic in Brazil in particular). Illegal deforestation and mining is increasing exponentially during this crisis, posing new levels of public health and environmental threat to indigenous territories.
In addition to coordinating local responses, Rainforest Foundation US, our allies and partners are spearheading several large initiatives to scale coronavirus responses across the region:
- Amazon Emergency Fund – A collaboration between Rainforest Foundation US, Amazon Watch, COICA and dozens of other allies and partners to raise and distribute funding directly to indigenous communities impacted by the coronavirus.
- SOS Rainforest Live – A collaboration between the three Rainforest Foundations (US, UK and Norway) to work with artists, scientists and indigenous leaders to secure direct funding for indigenous groups impacted by the coronavirus.
- COVID-19 response in Peru – A new partnership among USAID, CEDRO Peru, and Rainforest Foundation US, which will regularly deliver health information and related messages to vulnerable indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon Departments of Loreto and Ucayali. At the same time, this project will engage existing RFUS networks to leverage instant data from communities as they report the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis to regional organizations and the government, generating support and visibility. This is a two-year program that coordinates support among the Peruvian government, indigenous organizations, and other allies to prevent, mitigate and respond to immediate needs.
- Remote monitoring and advocacy – An effort by Rainforest Foundation US and partners in Peru, Guyana, Brazil and Central America to conduct expanded monitoring of illegal activity in indigenous territories – using a combination of near-real-time satellite data, high resolution imagery and on-the-ground networks – while travel to many of these areas is restricted due to coronavirus.
- Fora Garimpo, Fora Covid (Miners Out, COVID Out) Campaign – A major campaign spearheaded by Yanomami organizations to remove the roughly 20,000 illegal miners operating in the Yanomami Territory in northern Brazil. COVID-19 has been spreading in communities closest to illegal mining areas, with potentially devastating results. RFUS is collaborating on the campaign together with partners and allies Hutukara Yanomami Association, Instituto Socioambiental, Survival International, Amazon Watch and many others. Sign the petition here: www.minersoutcovidout.org/
- Supporting economic sustainability in the COVID-19 crisis: RFUS is helping communities develop and implement sustainable revenue generating activities within the parameters of health protocols, such as reforestation with income generating species and securing community level payments for their forest protection using blockchain technology.
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