Listening to the Pan-Amazon in the times of Covid-19
Sara Diego. ALBOAN Foundation
Listen to the call of the Amazon, that is what Pope Francis called upon us to do in his Apostolic Exhortation, Dear Amazon. Today, the whole planet is crying out and, of course, so too is the Amazon; crying out with a loud, though evermore more debilitated, vulnerable voice. The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a devastating toll on the Pan-Amazon basin: 9 countries, 35 million inhabitants, 3 million of whom are indigenous peoples. To date, there are a total of 212,105 confirmed cases and 8,866 deaths have been recorded. Over 6,000 of these confirmed cases and over 550 of the deceased are indigenous peoples. And, unfortunately, it is likely that these figures do not even reflect the full extent of the spread.
The Amazon region is calling out to us because of COVID-19, but it has long been imploring us for help for other reasons too: the appropriation and privatisation of natural resources, mega-projects that displace whole populations, wood-farming concessions that are spreading deforestation; mining, forest fires and single-crop farming, are just some of the threats facing the region, which not only cause environmental damage, but also endanger the existence of indigenous peoples, their culture and their identity. For years, the States and major corporations have considered the Amazon region to be an infinite resource. This behaviour has led to a socio-environmental crisis which the current healthcare crisis is now exacerbating. Both crises feed into each other and are revealing the enumerable structural issues caused by the historical abandonment of the States themselves towards the region and the Amazonian people, both in rural areas and in the cities.
The Amazon region weeps for her people; for the suffering they are enduring due to the uncontrollable spread of the virus which is multiplying because of difficult access to healthcare and hygiene and protective equipment. An overwhelmed and corrupt healthcare system, incapable of responding and dealing with the infected. People going back to their homes and communities, carrying the virus to their families, who are not equipped with the recommended personal protective items.
In the face of this situation, the Amazon region condemns the lack of coordination and poor capacity of the national and local governments to define and provide an adequate response to the Pan-Amazon issue. The most evident example is the denial of the reality and resulting lack of measures taken by the Brazilian government, although the passive approach of the public administrations is the standard attitude in most of the countries across the Pan-Amazon basin. There is a distressing shortage of public aid to cover the basic needs of so many indigenous communities that are currently lacking in resources to access food or water; as a result of overall job precariousness and informality, the dependence on access to urban centres to buy and sell products, and the recommendation or mandatory order to remain in the community, among other things. Lastly, the Amazon region condemns the lack of clear and accurate information. The most isolated communities hardly know anything about the existence and magnitude of the virus, so they are not defining prevention protocols or action plans to avoid its mass spread.
However, the Amazon region is also responding. Organisations and indigenous movements, civil society and the Church – both international, national and local –, and local and international NGOs in favour of Human Rights and social-environmental justice, among other issues. All of these bodies are getting mobilised to respond to this pandemic. The Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network (REPAM) is doing great work to coordinate a response together with other players, some of whom are connected to the Society of Jesus, such as the Pan-Amazon Jesuit Service (SJPAM). A unified action aimed at meeting basic needs – buying and distributing food, water, medication, hygiene products and protective equipment or disseminating information on prevention – but also to carry out advocacy, complaint and awareness actions that will lead us to listen and respond to the calls of the forsaken, violated and vulnerable Amazon region.
 Data as at 5 June (REPAM)