Many Yanomami wander the streets due to health problems

Many Yanomami wander the streets due to health problems

BOA VISTA, Brazil (AP) — From a distance, the small group lying on the sidewalk outside the city’s market could be confused with the hundreds of homeless people spreading through Boa Vista.

But they are the Yanomami, an indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest who traditionally live in relative isolation. The health crisis was exacerbated by years of neglect under the previous government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro when illegal gold miners entered their territory. Dozens of Yanomami roam the region’s largest cities.

The oldest people in a group living in Boa Vista’s food market are a couple — Oma Yanomami, 46, and Bonita Yanomami, 35. Both belong to the genus Corrosipitheri, accessible only by air. In September, they were medicated to Boa Vista with their 3-year-old son sick with malaria.

Initially, they lived in an indigenous health house known as Kasai, a federal facility on the outskirts of Boa Vista, a sprawling city of 440,000 people and the capital of Roraima state. But in the first few days the family left the facility and started living on the streets.

“It was very crowded,” Oma Yanomami told The Associated Press Thursday in broken Portuguese, sitting on the dirt sidewalk. Beside him, his wife was fast asleep despite the heavy traffic nearby. Both had wounds and were in poor health.

A report released this week by the Ministry of Health painted a grim picture of Kasai, which was built to host the Yanomami and their relatives undergoing treatment. Its capacity is 200 people, but it shelters 700 people, representing 2% of the Yanomami population. This figure does not include those hospitalized, including several children with severe malnutrition.

“Bathrooms are unsanitary, and eating places are inadequate and unpleasant. In addition, food was inadequate until a few months ago,” the report said. “The Yanomami lack space to prepare their food and other activities, so at night, there are many drunken people and reports of violence and car crashes.”

According to the report, 150 Yanomami are eligible to return to their villages, but the wait for a place on a return flight can be very long – 10 years in one extreme case.

An estimated 30,000 Yanomami people live in Brazil’s largest indigenous region, covering an area roughly the size of Portugal and spanning the states of Roraima and Amazonas in the northwestern corner of the Brazilian Amazon.

Life on the streets took its toll for Oma and Bonita Yanomami. Their son soon developed pneumonia, while his parents fell into alcoholism. Health workers took the child to a local hospital after learning about the matter. There, he was admitted as “destitute”, leading him to be adopted without parental consent.

The couple did not see their child for four months. Then social workers associated with the tribal movement intervened to meet them. The child’s future now depends on the court order.

It is not unusual to meet Yanomami on the streets of Boa Vista, mostly with drinking problems. Some go back to Kasai at night, others end up under the viaduct.

Their lives are miserable. Two weeks ago, a Yanomami woman gave birth on the sidewalk. On Thursday, a Yanomami man died several days after being injured in a fight inside a prison, according to the state’s justice secretary. There are 269 indigenous prisoners in Roraima of various communities.

In January, the federal government led by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva declared a public health emergency for the Yanomami people. Since then, military doctors have treated more than 1,000 people at a field hospital in Boa Vista, and 4,000 food baskets have been distributed across the vast region.

In parallel, security forces began destroying equipment and controlling access Illegal gold mining, approximately 20,000 people. As a result, dozens of indigenous people have decided to leave the area, while many continue to mine gold.

Indigenous organizations now want the Yanomami child, who is now four years old, to be returned to his parents so they can board a plane back to Korosipitheri, where six siblings are waiting for them.


Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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