Jarawa, Andaman Islands
Jarawa, Andaman Islands
© Salomé/Survival

A court ruling in India has put one of the world’s most recently-contacted tribes at greater risk of the swine flu pandemic, according to campaigners.

The court in the Andaman Islands, India, has ruled that a buffer zone around a reserve created to protect the Jarawa tribe is invalid. The decision gives the green light to a tourism resort owned by Barefoot India inside the buffer zone, close to the edge of the reserve.

The Jarawa, who number about 320, have only had peaceful contact with outsiders since 1998, and are expected to have little immunity to outside infections. The ruling may also allow other tourism companies to open resorts near the reserve, and a number of small-scale businesses are operating there already.

Survival believes that Barefoot’s resort poses a serious risk to the Jarawa’s health, as its clients could bring the risk of a potentially fatal contagion.

Several studies have shown that even indigenous peoples with a long history of contact are particularly at risk from the swine flu pandemic. The Jarawa, due to their long isolation, are especially vulnerable, and have already suffered measles epidemics.

Many of Barefoot’s visitors will have recently stepped off long-haul flights. Research indicates that about 20% of airline passengers develop colds or other viral infections within a few days of their flight.

In response to Survival’s campaign against Barefoot’s plans, the company’s head has accused Survival of among other things defamation, racism, and publishing material ‘bordering on pornography and promotion of paedophilia’. Barefoot denies its resort poses any threat to the Jarawa.

Survival’s director Stephen Corry said today, ‘This ruling is disastrous for the Jarawa. By challenging the plan for a buffer zone protecting the Jarawa’s land, Barefoot has opened the floodgates for tourism on the edge of the Jarawa’s reserve. This is a tribe who have only had friendly contact with outsiders for 10 years. The effects of a flu outbreak could well be devastating, and many of Barefoot’s clients will just have flown in from all corners of the world. Barefoot’s actions in pushing ahead with this resort now, and in challenging the buffer zone, are incredibly irresponsible.’

For more information please contact Miriam Ross at Survival International on (44) (0)20 7687 8734 or (44) (0)7504 543 367 or email [email protected]