Rainforest Foundation US Partners With Indigenous Peoples and Ally Organizations on New Amazon Emergency Fund

While governments scramble to respond to escalating COVID-19 cases, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the needs of indigenous and other forest peoples—some of the most vulnerable populations to the novel coronavirus—are going by the wayside in national efforts to confront the pandemic. What resources governments are investing are not adequately reaching communities in need and the plans that do exist are not always being developed or implemented in coordination with indigenous peoples’ representative organizations—those best suited to advise on effective responses for their member communities.

Despite little national support, indigenous leaders have been raising awareness and mobilizing resources to help keep their communities protected, healthy and safe. But in the last month alone, COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed across the Amazon Basin and the first cases have been reported in indigenous territories. As of May 4th, the best data indicates that over 26,500 cases have been registered in the Amazon basin, 179 of which are in indigenous peoples’ territories, and of the 1630 deaths reported, 33 were indigenous people.

Out of growing concern for the state of the national response with respect to indigenous populations, many national and international NGOs and donors, including Rainforest Foundation US, have come together with the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Basin (Coodinadora de las Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica, or COICA), the umbrella group of indigenous peoples’ representative organizations in the nine countries spanning the Amazon basin.

It is clear that the need for funding and the ability to deliver support to communities in need is much greater than the resources or networks of any one individual organization, which is why it is essential to come together to share information, resources and networks of support.

As a result, this new alliance issued a statement in solidarity with the calls of indigenous peoples’ organizations and joined forces with them to launch an Amazon-wide fund to directly support indigenous communities across the Amazon facing the threat of COVID-19.

The Amazon Emergency Fund will support rapid response grants for urgent and immediate prevention and care, food and medical supplies, emergency communications and evacuation, protection and security for forest guardians, and sustainable food systems and community resilience.

Panelists in the press conference for the launch of the fund (from left to right, top to bottom): José Gregorio Díaz Mirabal, Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon Basin (COICA); Tabea Casique Coronado, COICA; Julio César López, National Organization of the Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC); Elcio Severino da Silva Machineri, Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB); Sirito-Yana Aloema, Organization Of Natives in Suriname (OIS); Suzanne Pelletier, Rainforest Foundation US. The conference moderator was Leila Salazar-Lopez, Amazon Watch.

Rainforest Foundation US is acting as the initial fiscal sponsor for the Amazon Emergency Fund. We are both proud and comfortable playing this role, since for over 30 years we have worked in partnership with indigenous peoples and provided direct financial support to indigenous peoples’ organizations to advocate for their rights and protect their forests. Rainforest Foundation US will issue disbursements directly to solicitations for support approved by the governing council and will have complete transparency with the governing council in our financial role.

What follows are selected remarks from Rainforest Foundation US Executive Director, Suzanne Pelletier, speaking alongside indigenous leaders during the press conference on May 6th, 2020 to announce the launch of the fund:

“We’ve worked with partners to address a wide variety of threats to indigenous peoples lives and resources over the years, but nothing that could have as large an impact to indigenous peoples lives and future as this pandemic.

“We have created this fund to directly support communities across the Amazon facing the threat of COVID-19, but I think it is important to mention that this fund will also indirectly benefit all of humanity, since this pandemic is not only a humanitarian emergency, it is also an environmental emergency.

“Indigenous peoples across the Amazon are the last line of defense against forest destruction, and our best hope of mitigating climate crisis. So, keeping these communities, who are the guardians of the forest, safe is critical to maintaining life on our Earth for all of us, no matter where we live.

“By uniting in this unprecedented alliance of NGOs, donors and indigenous leadership, we are confident that we will have a more profound impact across the Amazon, especially at the community level where it is needed most.

“I’d like to stress the urgency of launching this fund now and providing support as soon as possible, since we have a very short window of time to act quickly and effectively across a vast region, if we are going to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in communities.

“With such a broad group of allies coming together, I hope this fund will be an example of what can be possible when we deepen our collaboration across borders and among allies to help meet the urgent needs of indigenous communities to get the resources they need to stay safe and protect their forests.

“I hope we are successful, because if we do not help indigenous communities stay safe, the impact will be felt not just in the Amazon, but across the world.”

With Rainforest Foundation US, the current members of the Founding Solidarity Circle of the Amazon Emergency Fund include:

COICA and its 9 national organizations (Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle, or AIDESEP (Peru); Amerindian Peoples Association of Guyana, or APA (Guyana); Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the East, Chaco and Amazon of Bolivia, or CIDOB (Bolivia); Coordination of Indigenous Organizations in the Brazilian Amazon, or COIAB (Brazil), Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, or CONFENIAE (Ecuador); Federation of Indigenous Organizations in Guyana, or FOAG (French Guiana); Organization of Indigenous People in Suriname, or OIS (Suriname); National Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon, or OPIAC (Colombia); Regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon, or ORPIA (Venezuela)), Amazon AID Foundation, Amazon Frontlines, Amazon Watch, AVAAZ, CASA Socio-Environmental Fund, Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR), Digital Democracy, The Climate Alliance, Fundación Pachamama, Global Wildlife Conservation, The HAHKU Project, The Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, Sustainable Amazon Foundation (FAS), Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Amazonia, Pachamama Alliance, Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Alliance, Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network, and International (WECAN).

For those who would like to join the Founding Solidarity Circle as an ally or advisor for this fund to please contact: moc.l1721246258iamg@1721246258dnufy1721246258cnegr1721246258emeno1721246258zama1721246258.

For more information and to donate please visit amazonemergencyfund.org

Additional Reading

6 May 2020 | Press Release:
COVID-19: Inaction and Lack of Funds Threatens Over Three Million Indigenous People and Over 400 Ethnic Groups in the Amazon

11 May 2020 | The New Humanitarian:

Read More


Amazon Emergency Fund Scales Up

The Amazon Emergency Fund (AEF) received a $2 million donation from the French Government to deliver COVID-19 relief to indigenous communities.

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Didier Devers
Chief of Party – USAID Guatemala

Didier has been coordinating the USAID-funded B’atz project since joining Rainforest Foundation US in April 2022. He holds a Master’s in Applied Anthropology and a Bachelor’s in Geography. Before joining the organization, Didier worked for 12 years in Central and South America on issues of transparency, legality, governance, and managing stakeholders’ processes in the environmental sector. Prior to that he worked on similar issues in Central Africa. He speaks French, Spanish, and English, and is based in Guatemala.