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What is happening to the Yanomamis and the forest of Amazon?

Updated: May 17, 2023

AbmthS spoke with Marcelo Soares, coordinator of the Expedicionários da Saúde NGO, which has been doing regular expeditions to address the health and well-being of the indigenous peoples in the Amazon.

Expedicionários da Saúde, Campinas, SP

Marcelo Moraes, EDS coordinator

Marcelo, please, tell us what EDS teams have found in the expeditions to Yanomami land?

What you see, when you arrive in Surucucu and in many other places where these Brazilians live, you see that they are survivors. Shamans who once existed in communion and harmony with nature, today pray that their children will not die of hunger or be contaminated by mercury left behind from illegal mining. Other endemics diseases that did not exist there before have also come from the immorality and greed of the white man.

What caused this humanitarian crisis?

The illegal invasion of more than 20 thousand gold miners, who began to occupy regions of the Amazon that, until then, had been untouched, such as those bordering Venezuela. The Yanomami found themselves without options for planting, hunting or fishing, and today hunger has caused serious cases of malnutrition. But not only this! With the arrival of the miners, there have also been outbreaks of diseases such as malaria and various respiratory infections like Covid-19 and pneumonia.

EDS member in action in Yanomami Land

What is the situation of the Yanomami today?

At the beginning of the year the crisis reached its highest level: 1.8 Yanomami children were dying every day in that territory alone. This rate is higher than in the sub-Saharan desert, where there is no public health system at all. Getting rid of illegal mining has been fundamental, but it is only the beginning of reparation for the recent history of a people who now suffer hunger, pain, and death on a daily basis. We have reached a crucial and pressing moment in which we have the opportunity to remove 30,000 indigenous people from this somber shadow that seems to have hidden Yanomami territory from the demographic map of Brazil in recent years.

When the pictures of elderly people and children in a serious state of malnutrition circulated on our screens at the beginning of this year, the whole country mobilized after seeing the dramatic health situation of these indigenous people (the first Brazilians, before all of us). It was laid bare for all to see that the Yanomami have been forgotten by their mother country, a country that has not been kind to them for a long time. But it seems that now, when illegal mining is slowly losing ground - at least in this territory, it is worth pointing out - the cameras and spotlights have been turned off and the issue is no longer front page news. It is as if the problem of so many years duration has suddenly been solved. But gold does not kill hunger. Nor does it kill worms, or malaria.

What is EDS doing to help the indigenous people?

We are currently working to set up a reference medical center that will be maintained on Yanomami land indefinitely. Despite the immense effort of our teams and partners, who have been working hard there for the past month, the situation of these indigenous people is critical. It has been very difficult, much more so than it should be, but we are not giving up. We have to act quickly. Life doesn't wait. Hunger doesn't wait. And gold does not kill hunger.

The illegal mining is slowly being eradicated and the gold remains. The hunger, the diseases and the consequences of a poisoned and deeply wounded tract of forest also remain…. as do its people for whom it is their ancestral home. And although the feeling of powerlessness, time and again, tries to take hold of our hearts, we persist in being present in the homes of these native peoples of Brazil. In the end, we know that, like the forest, the Yanomami people will resist. But not even all the gold that still remains there will bring back the lost indigenous lives.

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