Coronavirus pandemic leaves Amazon more vulnerable than ever

The indigenous peoples of the Amazon have already seen their homelands ravaged by illegal deforestation, industrial farming, mining, oil exploration and unlawful occupation of their ancestral territories.

Now, the coronavirus pandemic has magnified their plight, just as the forest fires are raging once more.

The Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, is a vital resource in the race to curb climate change — it spans over 7.4 million square kilometers (2.85 million square miles).

It covers 40 percent of the surface area of South America, stretching across nine countries and territories: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.

Around three million indigenous people — members of 400 tribes — live there, according to the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO). Around 60 of those tribes live in total isolation.

The following is a look back over at how the novel coronavirus spread through the Amazon jungle, and how those communities are handling the crisis.

Isolated but not protected

In mid-March, panic struck Carauari, in western Brazil.

Carauari is home to one of the most isolated communities in the world, and is only accessible by a week-long boat ride from Manaus, the nearest major city.

At first, the virus was seen as a threat that was well removed from the multi-colored houses on stilts that overlook the Jurua river, a tributary of the Amazon.

But the announcement of the first case in Manaus, the regional capital of Amazonas state, quickly sowed panic in the community.

No one in Carauari had forgotten how diseases brought by European colonizers ripped through the native populations in the Americas, nearly eliminating them altogether due to their lack of immunity.

“We’re praying to God not to bring this epidemic here. We’re doing everything we can — washing our hands often, like they tell us on TV,” said Jose Barbosa das Gracas, 52.

The first confirmed case amongst Brazil’s indigenous population was confirmed in early April: a 20-year-old health care worker from the Kokama tribe, who lived near the Colombian border.

She had worked with a doctor who also tested positive. (Tupac Pointu | AFP)

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