Brazil declares public health emergency for Yanomami people

Brazil's government has declared a public health emergency for the Yanomami people in the Amazon who are suffering from malnutrition and diseases such as malaria as a consequence of illegal mining.

Report says some running illegal mines are occupying community airstrips

Brazil's government has declared a public health emergency for the Yanomami people in the Amazon who are suffering from malnutrition and diseases such as malaria, as a consequence of illegal mining.

The decree, signed by Health Minister Nisia Trindade late Friday, has no expiration date and allows for hiring extra personnel. It determines that the team in charge has to publish reports regarding the Indigenous group's health and general well-being.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also created a multi-ministerial committee, to be co-ordinated by his chief of staff, for an initial period of 90 days. He is travelling to Roraima state's capital, Boa Vista, where many ill Yanomami have been admitted to specialized hospitals.

The Yanomami are the largest native group in Brazil, with a population of around 30,000. They live in an area larger than nine million hectares (22 million acres), in the northern area of the Amazon rainforest, close to the border with Venezuela.

50% of Brazil's malaria cases

In recent years, specialists had sounded the alarm about a humanitarian and sanitary crisis taking shape. The report "Yanomami Under Attack," written by the nonprofit Socio-Environmental Institute, points out that in 2021 the region was responsible for 50 per cent of the malaria cases in the country. The same report said that more than 3,000 children were malnourished.

"The problem of illegal mining is not new to the YIT (Yanomami Indigenous Territory in the states of Amazonas and Roraima). However, its scale and intensity have grown impressively in the last five years," the report said.

Illegal mining is the main root of the problems faced by the Yanomami people. Activists accuse miners of death threats, sexual violence and alcohol and drug abuse, especially against Indigenous children.

The same report shows that the region had more than 40 illegal airstrips made by miners and that they had taken over some of the government health centres installed in the region.

The non-profit detailed reports of armed miners in the territory and said this has resulted in "the total abandonment of health posts in some cases … and even the occupation of community airstrips."

"It is also common to hear complaints about the detour of medicines reserved for the Indigenous Peoples to be used by miners," it said.

Earlier this week, the Health Ministry had already designated a team for a special health mission in the Yanomami region. Lula scheduled an emergency trip to Roraima state following a report by independent local news website Sumauma, featuring shocking pictures of malnourished children.

According to the report, during the last four years of former President Jair Bolsonaro's government, the death of children age five or less had jumped 29 per cent in comparison to the previous government. The same report shows that 570 Yanomami children died between 2019 and 2022 from curable diseases.

Lula tweeted that the government received information on the "absurd situation" of malnourishment in Yanomami children. The president will be accompanied by several of his ministers in Boa Vista.

With files from CBC News

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