Land Invasions Threaten The Life Of Indigenous People Amid COVID-19

The pandemic distracts the public’s care of deforestation and fragile tribes in the Amazon. Although lockdown policy improves the environment of urban areas, things are different in these places. Increasing illegal mining, logging, and wild animal trafficking is reported by environmental authorities amid the COVID-19 outbreak. The infectious disease also made the Indigenous people unable to respond. With little access to the health care system, the life of local communities becomes tougher.

This epidemic weakens the voice of Indigenous groups. On April 27th, an annual mobilization aiming at defending Indigenous lands and rights was delayed. Instead of gathering in the nation’s capital to express their appeals, Indigenous people had to remain in their villages. However, the step of land invasions never stop. According to the data of (IPAM), there was a 53% destruction of undesignated public land, protected areas, and Indigenous territories in the first three months of this year. Comparing to last years figure, there is a 15% increase.

Brazil’s government’s inefficiency during the pandemic escalates the plundering for the profit of natural resources as well. Since President Jair Bolsonaro claimed it was necessary to lift residents out of poverty and prioritized economy over the rights of Indigenous people, there was an announcement about opening a vast Amazon reserve for mining. The virus further reduced forest monitoring and patrolling. Field agents protecting reserves had to leave. Then tropical rainforests are again exposed to loggers, miners, and poachers. Gregorio Díaz Mirabal, the chief coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin, expressed his worry through media: “No specific protocol exists. No direct care and support to us exist, and there is no coordination of policies with us.”

Additionally, remote tribes are lacking preparations for the devastating virus. The official report shows the death toll is more than 1,200 in the Amazon. Patients can only be carried by ferries along the waterways. However, most of them die on the five-day journey. To avoid the escalation of chaos and to cut off infection, local communities can only split into smaller groups. Dr. Sofia Mendonça, a researcher at the Federal University of São Paulo, said: “There is an incredible risk of the virus spreading across the native communities and wiping them out.” One million Indigenous people are under the high risk of extinction. 

The supply shortage of food is another severe threat. Because of the aggressive exploitation, these years, self-sufficient life of Indigenous people are interrupted. Diminishing territory means that they can no longer live on hunting for and growing their food, but monthly travel on boats to the city to receive pensions and assistance. However, this routine suspends after the outbreak. Without any actions of the Brazilian government, self-isolation becomes a luxury to Indigenous communities.

Rather than arbitrarily breaking up the autonomy of residents, peaceful methods should be adopted to save lives. Firstly, international institutions could urge the government to legislate against illegal invasions. Surveillance from the third party is also essential to ensure the implementation of the law. To reserve vulnerable aborigines, temporary rescue stations could be set up in the border of urban areas and forests, so the distance between tribes and health care is reduced. On the premise of no intervention, government and unofficial organizations can also provide contactless delivery by placing medical equipment and food in some collecting points. On the premise of no intervention, these stations and points should be removed after the pandemic.

Yuexin Li
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