Photo: Fiona Watson

Goal 13: Climate Action

The Yanomami Crisis: What’s Going On?

The Yanomami Indigenous peoples are facing a humanitarian crisis caused by the invasion of thousands of illegal miners

By Jessica Jurkschat
20 FEBRUARY 2023

The Yanomami are a community of approximately 35,000 Indigenous peoples who live in the remote villages of the Orinoco River basin in southern Venezuela and the northernmost reaches of the Amazon River basin in northern Brazil. 

In the last four years, more than 20,000 miners invaded the Yanomami territory, bringing disease, sexual abuse and armed violence that has terrified the Yanomamis and led to severe malnutrition and deaths.

Preventable diseases like malnutrition and malaria have torn through Yanomami villages, killing at least 570 Yanomami children under the age of five and leaving Yanomami adults too unwell to hunt or fish their food. At least 30 Yanomami girls and teenagers have reportedly been abused and impregnated by miners.

Their predicament is exacerbated by water pollution and environmental destruction from the mines, and sometimes violent encounters with intruders. 

The gold miners – known as garimpeiros – come from poor regions and usually cross the forest wearing flip-flops, carrying only food and personal belongings in their backpacks. They sleep in hammocks in campsites.

But their mining is backed by local elites who launder their money in Boa Vista hotels, restaurants, gyms, and gasoline stations, and is designed to outsmart authorities. Such tactics include illicit fuel distribution on the outskirts of Indigenous land, airstrips carved from the jungle for transport of miners and supplies, light planes with modified tail numbers, registered to front companies, helicopters operating between mining sites on the reserves, and illicit communication networks.

The emergency is the latest test for Brazil’s newly inaugurated President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has made environmental protection a priority for his term in office. He’s recently launched a campaign to drive tens of thousands of garimpeiros away from Yanomami reserves. 

And although Lula’s moves bring hope to the Indigenous communities across Brazil, resolving the crisis will be a long road, and he is likely to face resistance amongst those who support Bolsonaro’s policies.
It is our duty to protect the precious and increasingly fragile natural world that sustains us.

Indigenous peoples make up approximately 6 percent of the world's population, and yet they are responsible for safeguarding 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity. They hold vital ancestral knowledge and expertise on how to adapt, mitigate, and reduce climate and disaster risks.

To protect our planet, we need to protect the world's Indigenous population.


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