Brazil has airlifted 16 starving Yanomami tribal people to receive urgent treatment, after the government declared a medical emergency. The indigenous people live in a reserve in Brazil's northern state of Roraima. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has accused his predecessor, far-right Jair Bolsonaro, of committing genocide against the rainforest tribe. The government declared a medical emergency after hundreds of Yanomami children died from malnutrition.
The deaths are linked to water pollution caused by mining and logging in the densely forested area, where food insecurity is rife. On Saturday President Lula visited Roraima, which borders Venezuela and Guyana, following reports of severe malnutrition among Yanomami children and said he was "shocked" by what he found.
"More than a humanitarian crisis, what I saw in Roraima was genocide: a premeditated crime against the Yanomami, committed by a government insensitive to suffering," he said later. "I came here to say we are going to treat our indigenous people as human beings." An estimated 28,000 indigenous people live in the Yanomami reserve. They hunt, practise small-scale slash-and-burn agriculture and live in small, scattered, semi-permanent villages.
In his four years in power, Mr Bolsonaro often criticised the size of the indigenous reserves and promised to open some of them to agriculture and mining. His government weakened environmental protections, and critics said his rhetoric emboldened illegal activity in the region.
Today, some 20,000 illegal miners are estimated to operate inside the Yanomami reserve, which is rich in gold, diamonds and minerals. In 2021, miners in the area opened fire on the Yanomami using automatic weapons.
The new Lula government says more than 500 indigenous children have died in the past few years from drinking water contaminated with mercury, which is directly linked to illegal gold mining. Lula was sworn in as president on 1 January after narrowly defeating Jair Bolsonaro, and Brazilian society is deeply polarised.
Credit : Independent News Pakistan-INP