CCPY Update 99 - May 1998
THE AFTERMATH OF THE FIRES: PROVIDING THE RIGHT SORT OF HELP
News of the fires which raged through Roraima and threatened the Yanomami
made headlines around the world: while firemen from Argentina were quickly
on the scene and the UN repeatedly offered expert help, the Brazilian
government lost precious time before it took the fires seriously, and it
was only the providential early onset of rain over Roraima that put them
out at the beginning of April.
The threat to the Yanomami sparked off a worldwide wave of sympathy and
offers of help and suggestions have poured into CCPY.
The fires are now out and the clouds of smoke have disappeared.
The immediate danger is over, but the consequences of the forest fires and
the exceptionally severe drought that led to them have to be addressed.
More accurate evaluations of the destruction caused are now possible.
CCPY feels it is vital that the understandable rush to provide instant
relief for the Yanomami does not lead to indiscriminate solutions that
THE FOOD SOLUTION
The government has begun distributing food parcels to the small farmers who
lost their crops and to the Makuxi and other indigenous groups who live in
the savannah area. The UN Emergency Relief team and other organisations are
recommending food relief. But while this is definitely a solution for some,
food parcels are NOT the right solution for most of the Yanomami, except
when they are too sick to be self sufficient.
The Yanomami traditionally practise subsistence agriculture and rely on
staples like bananas and cassava, as well as harvesting many fruits from
the forest. They supplement this diet with hunting and fishing. When food
shortage occurs due to a late harvest or seasonal drought the Yanomami
track for weeks in the forest living entirely on forest products. This
year´s climate conditions were exceptionally harsh. The Yanomami faced an
unusually distressing situation, especially in regions where garimpeiros,
hunters or illegal settlers had already depleted the forest. Sick Yanomami
from these regions are being supplied with food obtained from the European
Union by the British NGO, Oxfam.
In the late 1980s the invasion of thousands of garimpeiros who began giving
handouts of food to buy the indian's goodwill, made many of them dependent
on non-traditional foodstuffs, abandoning their gardens and normal food
If food parcels were now to be handed out indiscriminately, this would be
repeating the damaging process begun by the garimpeiros, running the danger
of turning the Yanomami into a dependent, and therefore even more
vulnerable people. In CCPY's evaluation it would be a short-term solution
that in the long term could spell disaster.
THE AMOUNT OF FIRE DAMAGE
During the fires, estimates of the areas destroyed varied wildly:
INPA (the National Amazon Research Institute) now estimates that a total of
17,000 sq. km of intact rainforest was affected by the fires and the amount
of forest actually burnt was 9,254 sq. km.
While the amount of Yanomami land destroyed by fire is much smaller than at
first feared, the consequences for the Yanomami of the fires, and the
drought which created the conditions for them, are serious.
1) INCREASE OF MALARIA:
Weeks of thick smoke clouds, covering a radius of 300 km from Boa Vista,
made flying conditions hazardous and often impossible for small aircraft.
Health workers were unable to get to Yanomami villages where malaria was
rife, in addition to respiratory problems, eye infections and emotional
2) LACK OF FOOD: in some villages vegetable patches and fruit trees were
destroyed: the smoke and flames killed many animals. The drought has dried
up rivers, killing fish.
On 1st April in Brasilia CCPY coordinator Claudia Andujar, CCPY adviser,
anthropologist Bruce Albert, Marcio Santilli of ISA, Davi Kopenawa and 2
other Yanomami leaders, and Makuxi and Wapixana representatives met the
Secretary of Regional Policies, Fernando Catão, representatives from the
Ministry of the Environment and IBAMA to ask for a series of measures to
alleviate the situation of the indigenous groups in Roraima.
They were accompanied by Ivan Soares Farias, anthropologist of the FNS in
Roraima, who brought a report describing the seriousness of the malaria
epidemic among the Yanomami.
The Secretary (who has since resigned) did not have immediate
solutions to their proposals, which were as follows:
For the Yanomami area these were:
1. The removal and definite control of garimpeiro invasions (responsible
for the constant re-introduction of malaria).
2. The re-demarcation of the western frontier of the Yanomami reserve,
where the disappearance of border marks and the trail that connected them
has encouraged small farmers to advance into the Yanomami area.
3. Removal of ranchers and squatters from the Repartimento River region.
4. Immediate dismissal of a FUNAI employee who killed a Yanomami in Ajarani
II, four years ago.
5. Control of illegal hunting along the Yanomami periphery, especially in
the colonization projects like that in the Apiau River region.
6. Suspension of roadbuilding and installation of settlements in the forest
bordering the Yanomami area.
For all indigenous areas the proposals were:
1. More control by IBAMA (government environment agency) over illegal
hunting and fishing in indigenous areas
2. Funds for recovery of areas burnt by recent fires and areas degraded by
mining, forest clearing, etc
3. Availability of maps with the satellite images taken by INPE (National
Space Research Institute) of indigenous reserves in Roraima and Amazonas.
4. Setting up by the State of Roraima, of a Civil Defence system with
special training in the protection of environmental conservation and
5. Training of indians themselves in the control of natural resources and
the environment in general in indigenous areas.
The group expressed concern about the malaria situation and asked for
urgent action to control the epidemic.
THE MALARIA SITUATION
Secretary Catão (who has since resigned) at first suggested sending in
military medical teams to deal with the malaria emergency, a solution which
the FNS did not agree with. Instead the FNS produced their own
anti-malaria emergency plan.
and vital supplies of Mefloquina, a drug used to treat malarial victims,
were provided for the health posts, although it is still not available on a
more general scale in Roraima.
FNS reports 1445 cases of malaria in the Yanomami area in the first quarter
of 1998, a rate of 1406 per 1000 inhabitants.
Almost half (49%) were the most serious kind, falciparum.
The worst hit areas are Auaris, Xitei, Parafuri and Paapiu, where the
incidence is over 200 per 1000, or 1 out of every 5 indians.
There over 50% are falciparum, with the highest number of cases amongst
children under four years.
GENERAL HEALTH SITUATION
For Edgard Dias Magalhães, former coordinator of the FNS Yanomami Health
Programme (DSY) the fires have had the following impact on the health
situation of the indigenous populations in Roraima:
an increase of malaria in forest areas,
a reduction of the quantity and quality of food, favouring subnutrition and
an increase in diseases
a worsening of the water quality
a loss of producing and planted gardens leading to hunger
a loss of purchasing power because of the destruction of commercial
products (banana, cassava, flour)
deaths of domestic and wild animals
The DSY runs 24 health posts, each linked to between 1 to 15 Yanomami
villages. Nine are run by NGOs including the CCPY, 2 by FUNAI and 13 by the
UN TEAM REPORT
A seven-person team from UNDAC, the United Nations Disaster Assessment and
Coordination, spent a week in Roraima assessing relief requirements as a
result of the fires. They found that a total of 12,000 people had been
directly affected, with 7000 in need of food and water.
As well as livestock, electric power posts, wells, bridges schools and
health centres had been damaged.
They concluded that food supplies, malarial medicines, seeds, tools,
and the opening of 72 wells were the immediate needs.
For the longer term they proposed an environmental assessment to evaluate
damage, the acquisition of permanent satellite tracking antennae for
receiving local data for fire monitoring, and the enforcement of fire bans.
Environment Minister Gustavo Krause, who was criticised in the press for
not going to Roraima when the fires were raging, said that initial
estimates showed they had caused about US$15 million worth of damage to
farm and grazing lands.
President Cardoso has authorised the creation of a rapid-deployment task
force to prevent and fight fires. Personnel would be specially trained and
INTERNATIONAL HELP FOR THE YANOMAMI
Many international organisations have rallied round with practical offers
of help to the Yanomami through CCPY.
Oxfam sent a mission to Roraima to evaluate the situation of the indigenous
people at the invitation of CIR, Roraima´s Indian Council. Their help to
the Yanomami will be in the form of mefloquina for malaria victims,
snakebite serum and food relief for emergency cases.
The French NGO France Libertés/Fondation Daniele Mitterrand is considering
an emergency supply of medicines through CCPY. MSF Holland will extend
medical support to 10 health posts of DSY. Oxfam, France Libertés and MSF
Holland are being funded through the European Union emergency funds (ECHO
3). The British Embassy is considering constructing a well in Parawa ú,
one of the health posts run by CCPY.
In addition CCPY wishes to thank all those who have made contact with us,
offering suggestions and practical help.
IRRESPONSIBLE COLONIZATION BLAMED FOR DISASTER
ISA's Marcio Santilli, ex-FUNAI president, concluded that while the climate
changes provoked by El Nino have been blamed for the drought, "the savage
process of colonization" could be a bigger villain. "Irresponsible
politicians encourage the disorderly migrations of contingents of miserable
people, mostly from Maranhao, to Roraima".
On arrival they become captive voters of these politicians.
It is the same process which brought the garimpeiros (goldminers) to
Roraima. The migrants become poor farmers in settlements located in forest
regions, deforesting around the edges of indigenous areas and ecological
reserves. They clear the forest, supplying local sawmills, but without
proper assistance, fail to make a go of farming and sell up their land to
"Disputes between different political factions for control of the state
agencies in charge of land distribution has worsened the situation.... This
chaotic policy has led to land conflicts in a state that has less than
300,000 inhabitants for an area of 225,000 sq. km. Even after deducting the
55% claimed by the state's indigenous population, Roraima still has one of
the lowest population densities in Brazil and the world. Yet local
politicians oppose the demarcation of indigenous areas".
Santilli says that these same politicians are now fighting to control the
emergency funds provided by the federal government for their own electoral
FRIENDS OF THE EARTH SAY CARBON EMISSIONS UP
The environmental organisation Friends of the Earth calculated that the
Roraima fires released 125 million metric tons of carbon into the
atmosphere. They claimed this is equivalent to all the carbon emissions
released in Sao Paulo, a city of 10 million people, in ten years.
The fires pushed the garimpeiro question into the background,
but reports from Roraima say that many remained in the Yanomami area when
the government's removal operation ended in January.
CCPY raised the question during an audience with the Federal Secretary for
Human Rights, José Gregori in April. Since then we have heard that the
operation will be re-initiated soon.
Much of the spending on malaria would be saved if the operation to remove
and keep garimpeiros out of the Yanomami area was maintained permanently.
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