President of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva Brazil declared a medical emergency in the Yanomami territory, the country’s largest indigenous reservation in the Amazon over the deaths of children from malnutrition.  
President of Brazil Lula da Silva visits the Yanomami Indigenous Health House in Bao Vista, Roraima, on January 21, 2023. Photo credit: Reuters/Ricardo Stuckert

On his visit to Brazil’s northern state of Roraima on Saturday after the public health emergency for the Yanomami people in the Amazon was declared, President Lula da Silva called the treatment of the Yanomami inhumane. The public health emergency is a result of malnutrition and diseases such as malaria as an outcome of illegal mining.

At the capital of Roraima, Boa Vista, Lula said  Immediate measures will be taken by the government and these include improvement in transportation and employment of more doctors and health professionals to work in the affected region.


A decree signed by Health Minister Nisia Trindade was published on Friday by the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, which aims to restore health services to the Yanomami people which were earlier discontinued by former President Jair Bolsonaro.

The announcement of a medical emergency was made following the publication of pictures representing children and elderly men and women so frail their ribs were visible.

Table of Contents

  • Brazil’s Yanomami in danger
  • Causes of the Yanomami situation
  • Measures to tackle the Yanomami situation

Brazil’s Yanomami in danger

Davi Kopenawa, Yanomami leader and shaman surrounded by children, Demini, Brazil. Photo credit: Fiona Watson/Survival

According to Sumauma, a journalism platform based in Amazon reported that in four years of Bolsonaro’s presidency, 570 Yanomami children died of curable diseases, mainly malnutrition and also malaria, diarrhoea and malformations caused by illegal gold mining.

The Yanomami are dwellers of Brazil’s largest indigenous area, with more than 9 million hectares and a population of about 30,000, in the northern part of the Amazon rainforest, close to the border with Venezuela.

In recent years, experts had raised their concerns over the alarming situation in the Yanomami region. A report titled “Yanomami Under Attack” published by the nonprofit Socio-Environmental Institute noted that during the last four years of Bolsanaro’s presidency, the death of children aged 5 or less had increased by 29% in comparison to the previous government. The same report shows that 570 Yanomami children between 2019 and 2022 died from curable diseases.

“We must hold the previous government accountable for allowing this situation to get worse to the point where we find adults weighing like children, and children reduced to skin and bones,” said Sonia Guajajara, the first indigenous woman to be a cabinet minister, heading a new Ministry of Indigenous Affairs.

Causes of the Yanomami situation

A Yanomami man stands near an illegal gold mine in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil’s Roraima state in this file photo from April 17, 2016. Photo Credit: Bruno Kelly/Reuters

Malnutrition has been admitted as the main cause of the health emergency. Other causes have been malaria and malformations. According to the report “Yanomami under attack”, the region was responsible for 50% of the malaria cases in Brazil. It also mentioned many children were malnourished. 

However, these factors are an outcome of illegal gold mining which is the main root of the problems faced by the Yanomami people. Estêvão Benfica, geographer and a researcher at Socio-Environmental Institute, said that “ the mining activity changes the soil, creating puddles which are favourable for the malaria mosquito, other diseases as well. It’s a sanitary and humanitarian crisis.” He further pointed out the lack of personnel and basic resources to detect malaria in its early stages, which worsens the situation. 

President Jair Bolsonaro’s government’s political approach has also been blamed, as he had shut down four health units following the decrease in health personnel, which left the Yanomamis without any access to medical consultation. In 2018, he had 2018 promised to allow mining on protected lands and offered to legalise wildcat mining. The report also shows that the region had more than 40 illegal airstrips made by miners which had taken over some of the public health centres developed in the region.

Activists have also accused miners of death threats, sexual violence and alcohol and drug abuse, especially against Indigenous children.

Measures to tackle the Yanomami situation

Brazil’s President Lula da Silva tweeted against illegal mining in Amazon. Photo credit: Twitter

Brazil’s  Ministry of Health released a decree, which states the employment of extra personnel without any expiration date, in the northern part of Amazon forests where the Yanomamis live.

A multi-ministerial committee headed by the President’s Chief of staff has been formed to look over the current medical emergency for an initial period of 90 days.

President Lula had tweeted saying, “ more than a humanitarian crisis what I saw in Roraima was genocide: a premeditated crime against the Yanomami, committed by a government insensitive to suffering.” He had convened an emergency trip to Roraima after the declaration of a medical emergency.

The government has announced food packages to be flown to the Yanomami region of the rainforest and tropical savanna. The Health Ministry is expected to visit with the designated team for a special health mission in the Yanomami region.

President Lula said his government will put an end to illegal gold mining as it moves to cease illegal deforestation in the Amazon, which was at an all-time high during the previous government’s term.


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