Imagine the path that a virus needs to take to reach a village in the middle of the forest, contaminate one, two, ten, thousand, 28 thousand indigenous people, as happened with the new coronavirus in Brazil from the beginning of the pandemic until the end of August.
A broad survey published on Friday (23) proves what could be suspected: deforestation, illegal mining and cases of Covid-19 are related to facilitating the contact of this population with infected people.
Based on a fixed effects model, the research crossed data from the Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health, an organ linked to the Ministry of Health, with daily information from Deter – the INPE system (National Institute for Space Research) that captures almost in time deforestation in the Amazon is real.
Progress in deforestation and illegal mining was measured in more than 5,000 municipalities. The result shows that these two causes explain at least 22% of all confirmed Covid-19 cases in indigenous peoples until August 31, 2020.
“The results are quite relevant to public policies, as it shows that the negative effects of deforestation are much greater than imagined because they end up expanding the pandemic to super vulnerable populations”, says economist Humberto Laudares, author of the study and researcher affiliated with Geneva University, Switzerland.
The results of Laudares’ research were published this Friday in the Covid Economics bulletin, from the Center For Economic Policy Research, which brings together more than 1,500 researchers.
Brazil has recorded, until this Friday (23), 155,962 deaths caused by the disease since it was first registered in the country, in February this year. The number of cases tested positive for the disease reached 5,325,682.
While facing the problems caused by the pandemic, deforestation and fire outbreaks have also grown at record levels in the country under the management of Jair Bolsonaro (without a party).
The survey results also show that an increase of one unit in deforestation, per 100 km², is associated, on average, with the confirmation of 2.4 to 5.5 new daily cases of Covid-19 in indigenous people, 14 days after deforestation .
Within these two weeks, 1 km² deforested results in 9.5% more new cases of contagion. “In municipalities that have deforestation and illegal mining, Covid’s cases go up 179%, on average,” says Laudares.
There are 311 indigenous peoples in Brazil, totaling 760 thousand people (0.36% of the total population). As of August 31, 2020, the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus had affected 158 of these communities. The cases of Covid-19 in the indigenous people represented up to that month between 0.6% and 0.8% of the total registered in the country – 3.8 million confirmed cases and 120 thousand deaths until that date.
According to the research, in the Amazon region, indigenous mortality is the highest among all ethnic groups, while for the whole country, ‘browns’ and blacks have the highest number of deaths from coronavirus.
On Thursday (22), Minister Luís Roberto Barroso rejected the Covid-19 General Plan for Coping and Monitoring for Indigenous Peoples presented by the Jair Bolsonaro government to the Supreme Court (STF).
The magistrate did not approve the plan on the grounds that the document is “generic and vague”, which makes inspection of its implementation unfeasible, and gave the government 20 days to deliver a new plan.
In early August, the STF unanimously decided to endorse the individual decision given by Barroso on 8 July. The minister had determined the Executive’s obligation to adopt several measures in order to contain the advance of coronavirus among the Indians.
On that occasion, the court ordered the Union to prepare a plan to prevent the spread of the disease in the indigenous population.
High deforestation and uncontrolled fires under Bolsonaro’s management have placed Brazil in a delicate position in the international context. Europe threatens to break the agreement with Mercosur. Agribusiness, the main driver of deforestation, has also been viewed with suspicion in the foreign market.
In September, despite deforestation in the Amazon being lower than in the same month of 2019, it remained high in relation to the historical average. This, despite the presence of the Army in the forest, with Operation Green Brazil 2.
According to data from Deter, there was a decrease of 33% in this period. In September 2019, however, in the first year of the Bolsonaro government, a record of deforestation was recorded in the recent history of Deter, with more than 1,400 km² of destruction recorded by satellites. Even with the fall, almost 1,000 km² of forest was cleared this year.
The ranking of the months of September with the highest deforestation has 2019 in first place, followed by 2020 and 2018. With Deter’s records since 2015 – only from that year it is possible to make a comparison, due to changes in system accuracy—, the average deforestation recorded in September is 790 km².