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Brazilian Government Declares Medical Emergency in Yanomami

Brazil’s ministry of health has declared a medical emergency in the Yanomami territory, the country’s largest indigenous reservation bordering Venezuela, following reports of children dying of malnutrition and other diseases caused by illegal gold mining. A decree published by the incoming government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the aim of the declaration was to restore health services to the Yanomami people that had been dismantled by his far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro. Lula visited a Yanomami health centre in Boa Vista in Roraima state following the publication of photos showing children and elderly men and women so thin their ribs were visible. Lula said the new government will put an end to illegal gold mining as it moves to crack down on illegal deforestation in the Amazon, which surged to a 15-year high under Bolsonaro.

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More About This Medical Emergency:

  • In four years of Bolsonaro’s presidency, 570 Yanomami children died of curable diseases, mainly malnutrition but also malaria, diarrhoea and malformations caused by mercury used by wildcat gold miners.
  • The government announced food packages that will be flown to the reservation where some 26,000 Yanomamis live in a region of rainforest and tropical savanna the size of Portugal.
  • The reservation has been invaded by illegal gold miners for decades, but the incursions multiplied since Bolsonaro won office in 2018 promising to allow mining on previously protected lands and offering to legalise wildcat mining.
  • There are also signs that organised crime has become involved. In recent violent incidents, men on speed boats on the rivers have shot with automatic weapons at indigenous villages whose communities oppose the entry of gold miners.
  • Some gold miners have begun to leave, fearing enforcement operations by the Lula government, and appear to be heading across the border into neighbouring Guyana and Suriname.

Steps That The Government Is Prepared To Take:

Sonia Guajajara, the first indigenous woman to hold a cabinet position and the head of a new Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, said, “We must hold the previous government accountable for allowing this situation to get worse to the point where we find adults weighing like children and children reduced to skin and bones”.

In addition to stepping up its efforts to combat illegal deforestation in the Amazon, which reached a 15-year high under Bolsonaro, Lula promised that the new administration would end illegal gold mining.

About Yanomami tribes:

  • They are also called South American Indians.

  • They live in the remote forests of the Orinoco River Basin in southern Venezuela and the northernmost part of the Amazon River Basin in northern Brazil.

  • They live in small, scattered, semi-permanent villages, speak the Ziriana language, and hunt.

  • Their population is about 26,000.

  • Davi Copenava, a Brazilian leader who secured the land rights of the Yanomami people, has been awarded the Right Livelihood Award-2019, also known as Sweden’s alternative Nobel Prize.

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