Survival International statement on Yanomami health emergency: a genocide foretold

January 24, 2023

Desperately malnourished Yanomami children, Surucucus region. © URIHI – Associação Yanomami

Organization calls for six-point plan to address crisis

“The unprecedented and catastrophic health crisis engulfing the Yanomami people in northern Brazil is a genocide that’s been years in the making” said the head of Survival Brasil Sarah Shenker today.

“Former President Bolsonaro deliberately opened the gates to the territory and encouraged thousands of gold miners to flood in. He dismantled the Indigenous health service; cheered on the miners invading Indigenous territories; and ignored the desperate pleas for action from Indigenous organizations, Survival and many others when the scale of the crisis became clear.

“The miners – the diseases they’ve brought in, the mercury they’ve poisoned the rivers and people with, the forests they’ve destroyed and the violence they’ve unleashed – are the clear and obvious cause of this disaster.

“The results are well documented: 570 Yanomami children under 5 have died of preventable diseases since Bolsonaro came to power; Yanomami children are dying of malnutrition at a rate 191 times higher than the national average; 8 out of 10 Yanomami children in the regions of Auaris and Maturacá have chronic malnutrition; and so on.

“We’re pleased that President Lula has now called this what it is – a genocide. We’re calling for a six-point plan to be enacted as a matter of extreme urgency:

1. Remove the miners. This has been done before, in the 1990s, but it needs real political will, and the funds to carry it out.

2. Send in the health teams who are desperately needed, and ensure they have long-term funding.

3. Prosecute the politicians and businesspeople who have been profiting from this genocide, both in the state of Roraima and elsewhere.

4. Dismantle the violent criminal gangs who now operate in the area and prosecute those who attacked and murdered Yanomami.

5. Clean up the supply chains to ensure anyone buying Brazilian gold can be sure it’s been legally produced.

6. Ensure this can never happen again: Indigenous territories need proper protection from invasion and land theft, and the will to enforce it. Official monitoring posts near uncontacted Yanomami communities need reinforcing.

“The early signs of action from President Lula and his team are encouraging. They don’t have a minute to lose, and Brazil’s Indigenous organizations and Survival will be watching closely to see if deeds follow words.”

Notes to Editors:

Both Survival’s Research and Advocacy Director Fiona Watson, and head of Survival Brasil Sarah Shenker, know the Yanomami territory well and are available for interview.

Survival has fought alongside the Yanomami for decades. We led the international campaign for the demarcation of the Yanomami territory, along with Davi Kopenawa Yanomami and the Pro-Yanomami Commission (CCPY).

The Yanomami live in northern Brazil and southern Venezuela.