The Brazilian Amazon immediately faces deforestation and Covid-19

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Wood illegally removed from a reserve in Para, Brazil on February 20, 2020.
Deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest increased by almost 64% in April this year, compared to the same month last year, it shows data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) in Brazil. Last month alone, more than 156 square miles (405.6 square kilometers) of rainforest were destroyed – a vast swathe about California’s size.

The first quarter of 2020 had already experienced an over 50% increase in deforestation compared to last year, according to INPE data.

More than 3,000 soldiers from the Brazilian armed forces have been deployed in the Amazon, together with environmental officials, to help curb illegal logging and other criminal activities that could impact the rainforest, according to the Ministry of Defense.

President Jair Bolsonaro has already faced global criticism and condemnation of deforestation that has occurred under his surveillance. The far-right, pro-business president promised to explore the economic potential of the rainforest.

Last year, later mass fires consumed large areas of the rainforest, Bolsonaro was accused of encouraging the activity of Illegal breeders, miners and loggers, many of which use fire as a quick way to cut down trees to free up space for crops and cattle grazing. By November 2019, the deforestation rate in the Amazon had risen to its highest level in more than a decade.

“We are well on our way to another record year for deforestation and wildfires in the Amazon,” said Adriana Charoux, Amazon’s supporter for Greenpeace Brazil in a recent press release. “In the midst of the pandemic, Bolsonaro is doubling the actions that could effectively disintegrate indigenous territories and lead to greater deforestation for meat production.

One of the measures that Bolsonaro is pushing for now is the provisional measure 910 (MP 910), a law that could allow the so-called “land grabbers” who illegally invaded public land from 2011 to 2018 to establish legal ownership. The measure was to be voted on Congress on Wednesday, but it had no quorum.

The hashtag # NoMP910 set a trend on Wednesday in Brazil, with environmentalists and Brazilians in general protesting against the vote. “It is our land, our territory, our place. Our environment is not a political-electoral chip,” indigenous activist Mayalú Txucarramãe tweeted about his personal account. “Stop genocide and ecocide.”

Bolsonaro has often criticized the amount of Amazonian land officially delimited as indigenous territory as excessive. During an event at the Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia last February, Bolsonaro said it was “offensive” that such a large part of the territory was occupied by regional tribes leaving “his assets hidden forever”.

Coronavirus deaths among Brazilian indigenous people

About 13% of Brazil is indigenous land, mainly in the Amazon. That land is officially reserved for the country’s 900,000 indigenous people, who represent less than 0.5% of the country’s population.

Activists fear that the growing commercial activity in the Amazon also poses a greater risk that outsiders transport infectious diseases to indigenous communities, including coronavirus.

“Indigenous people in the Amazon don’t have antibodies to diseases that come from outside the rainforest”, Brazilian activist and photographer Sebastião Salgado said CNN’s Christiane Amanpour during a recent interview. “There is a huge danger that coronavirus could enter indigenous territory and become a true genocide.”
Salgado, who currently lives in Paris, has spent several decades photograph the indigenous communities of Brazil. He told Amanpour that when he photographed in the Amazon in the past, he had to undergo a 10-day quarantine, but he feared that “the door is now open” for anyone who can climb over indigenous lands potentially exposing them to diseases such as coronavirus.
A boy from a remote Amazonian tribe has died, raising concerns about the impact of Covid-19 on the indigenous population

At least 277 cases and 19 coronavirus-related deaths have so far been confirmed among Brazilian indigenous tribes, according to SESAI, a specialized branch of the Brazilian Ministry of Health that deals with health problems among indigenous peoples. Many of these have been recorded in the Alto Rio Solimões, in the state of Amazonia.

SESAI said it sent hundreds of N95 disposable masks, gloves and goggles to dozens of tribes across the country. He also launched a flu vaccination campaign and an information campaign on Covid-19, according to a recent report.

But environmental groups such as Survival International believe that the only way to help indigenous people – especially non-contacted groups – is to keep illegal loggers and miners out of their territories.

“If their lands are adequately protected from outsiders, uncontacted tribes should be relatively safe from the coronavirus pandemic. But many of their territories are invaded and stolen for deforestation, mining and agro-industry, with encouragement of President Bolsonaro “, the uncontacted tribes of Survival International the election campaign Sarah Shenker said in a recent press statement.

“Where the invaders are present, the coronavirus could wipe out entire populations. It is a matter of life or death.”

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