BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visited the northern Brazilian state of Roraima Saturday after the government announced the entry of the Yanomami people from the Amazon region. A public health emergency, and they suffer from malnutrition and diseases such as malaria as a result of illegal mining.
In Boa Vista, the state capital, Lula said the Yanomami were being treated inhumanely. Immediate steps by the government were to improve transport and hire more doctors and nurses to work in the area, he said.
The decree, signed by Health Minister Nisia Trindade late on Friday, has no expiration date and allows for additional staff to be hired. It was decided that the responsible team must issue a report on the health and general well-being of the Indigneous group.
Lula also set up a multi-ministerial committee, coordinated by his chief of staff, for an initial 90-day period. Government teams traveled to Boa Vista, where many sick Yanomami have been admitted to specialized hospitals.
The Yanomami live in Brazil’s largest indigenous region, covering more than 9 million hectares (22 million acres) and a population of about 30,000, in the northern Amazon rainforest, near the Venezuelan border.
In recent years, experts have sounded the alarm about the unfolding humanitarian and health crisis. The report, “Yanomami Under Attack,” written by the nonprofit Socio-Environmental Research Institute, states that by 2021, the region will account for 50 percent of the country’s malaria cases. The same report stated that more than 3,000 children were malnourished.
Illegal mining is a major source of problems faced by the Yanomami. Activists have accused the miners of death threats, sexual violence and alcohol and drug use, especially against Aboriginal children. The same report revealed that there are more than 40 illegal airstrips in the area built by miners who have also taken over some government medical centers installed in the area.
“Mining activities alter the soil, creating watering holes that are conducive to malaria mosquitoes and other diseases. Many miners also bring diseases. This is a health and humanitarian crisis,” said geographer and one of the researchers at the Institute of Social and Environmental Studies Estêvão Benfica said.
Benfica also said the situation was exacerbated by a lack of staff and basic resources to identify malaria at an early stage. The high incidence prevents Yanomamis from working their lands, forming a large community that cannot sustain itself economically.
Another factor was the political approach of the government of former President Jair Bolsonaro, when the number of health personnel was reduced and four health units were closed, leaving hundreds of Yanomami without medical advice.
Earlier this week, the Ministry of Health had designated a team to carry out a special sanitation mission in the Yanomami region. Lula arranged an emergency trip to the state of Roraima after a report by local independent news site Sumauma published shocking photos of malnourished children.
In the last four years of Bolsonaro’s administration, the death rate among children aged 5 or under has reportedly risen by 29 percent compared with the previous administration. According to the same report, 570 Yanomami children will die from curable diseases between 2019 and 2022.