Reports of a growing number of cases of malaria in the area around the Jirau dam, an area home to uncontacted tribes, has indigenous groups worried. Malaria can be fatal to the tribes as documented in 2008.

Malaria Outbreak Could be Fatal to Isolated People

Rick Kearns

Indigenous advocates are warning that isolated peoples living near part of the Madeira dam complex are in grave danger of contracting malaria due to an outbreak in the region.

Malaria and other diseases can be fatal to the isolated people as was documented in a 2008 report by Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (FUNAI); investigators found numerous cases of malaria, hepatitis B and other diseases were affecting isolated people among others in Amazonas state. (The report focused on violence against isolated and “lesser” contact people in the area but noted the presence of the diseases as well.)

According to Survival International, local authorities have reported a growing number of cases of malaria in the area around the Jirau dam, one of two large dams being constructed along the Madeira River in Amazonas.

Isolated peoples live around the Jirau site according to reports by FUNAI and Kinande, an environmental defense organization in Brazil. The Mujica Nava and Jacareuba/Katawixi peoples live near the Jirau dam, and they are among the many isolated peoples living in the areas all along the Amazon River.

These groups of traditional indigenous peoples reside in remote forest areas with little or no contact with outside people according to observers from FUNAI, Kinande and others. They depend on the forest and rivers for their sustenance and wellbeing, and are extremely vulnerable to disease—even simple colds can be deadly—because of their limited exposure to the outside world over the generations. Several official documents confirm that FUNAI alerted IBAMA (the federal environmental agency) and the consortiums responsible for building the dams about the presence of these people in the area during the environmental studies. However, IBAMA and the two consortiums disregarded FUNAI’s warnings.

Both the Jirau and San Antonio dams, which are currently under construction, are bringing large scale damage to the rainforest upon which the indigenous people depend on for their survival according to SI and other sources. Opponents from environmental and indigenous groups have been protesting the construction of the complex for three years due to the damage from road building, logging, and other processes which cause deforestation and force the removal of indigenous residents.

Even the Brazilian Government’s own IBAMA did not at first issue a license to continue the project in 2007 due to environmental concerns. Later that same year however environmental officials then did grant the license but attached a series of 33 demands that would protect fishing, water quality and provide social support to affected communities.

Almir Surui of the Surui tribe is calling for the construction of the dams to be suspended. He came to Europe to protest against the project last month, and said, “The dams are jeopardizing the lives of uncontacted Indians… I wonder how the Brazilian government feels; how can they promote projects that could force a people to extinction?”

Late last month, the construction of the Madeira dams came to a stand still following protests by construction workers. Observers believe the halt is temporary and if construction continues at the current rate, the Santo Antônio dam is expected to go on-stream in 2011, and the Jirau dam in 2012.

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