Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has called for emergency action to assist the country’s Yanomami indigenous group, according to a government statement on Monday.
Living conditions among the relatively isolated Yanomani have deteriorated precipitously, with over 570 deaths from hunger over the last four years, according to CNN Brasil.
The new Brazilian government plan will aim to provide nutritional and health assistance to the Yanomami and to guarantee security in the territory, where illegal miners and trespassers have caused deforestation and are accused of spreading disease and blocking travel.
The operation – which will draw on Brazil’s Justice, Defense, Indigenous People and Mining Ministries – also seeks to ensure access to safe drinking water through wells and cisterns, and to measure mercury pollution in local waterways, another consequence of illegal mining operations.
Brazil’s Health Ministry declared a public health emergency in the area on January 20. The announcement was quickly followed by a visit by Lula to Yanomami territory – one of the Brazilian President’s first official trips since taking office at the start of the year.
Separately, Justice Minister Flavio Dino has told CNN Brasil that his ministry is opening an investigation to determine if the actions of the previous government under Jair Bolsonaro amounted to a “genocide” of the Yanomami.
The pro-business former leader Bolsonaro openly encouraged development in the Amazon. He too traveled to Yanomani territory as president, telling one community that he would respect their wishes for no mining, but throughout his term reduced funding for state agencies responsible for preventing illegal mining, logging and ranching.
The Yanomami live in the rainforests and mountains of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela, according to Survival International, an organization that seeks to protect indigenous rights.
In 2020, the Brazilian Socio-Environmental Institute warned that the coronavirus was spreading among the Yanomami from miners who had illegally entered indigenous territory.
“Today, without a doubt, the main vector for the spread of COVID-19 inside the Yanomami Indigenous Territory is the more than 20,000 illegal miners that go in and out of the territory without any control,” ISA said in a statement on its website at the time.