Things That Matter

Tourists Bring Millions Of Dollars To The Amazon Just To Try This Drug

Every year, thousands of tourists travel to the Amazon to participate in ayahuasca rituals, which are said to be life-changing spiritual experiences. Ayahuasca is a powerful drug that, when prepared correctly, allegedly has the ability to blast the most skeptical user into a hallucinogenic trance that opens their eyes to the true nature of the universe. However, the popularity of the drug is putting a drain on the Amazon region, especially in Peru, where tourist demand is creating a shortage of ayahuasca’s main ingredient, the Guardian reports.

Tourists bring fat wallets to the area, but they are putting a strain on the supply of caapi vine available to “indigenous healers.”

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CREDIT: Ryan Haran / Flickr

Every year, tourists bring in over 6 million dollars to the region, but the economic boom has created a crisis among the curanderos who rely on supplies that are becoming increasingly difficult to acquire. The caapi vine, a vital ingredient, can take several years to mature, and growers are currently having trouble meeting local needs. Adding to the demand, exporters are sending Amazonian ayahuasca materials to foreign countries, contributing to the overall depletion in the Amazonian region. The Guardian reports that many shamans have had to seek out alternative ingredients to accommodate the growing demand, but this has contributed to problems in the quality of the ayahuasca tea that tourists consume. Is there a solution to this current crisis? Check out the Guardian‘s piece to see what steps growers and shamans taking.

[READ MORE] The Guardian: Tourist boom for ayahuasca a mixed blessing for Amazon


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Brazil’s Remote Indigenous Communities Are At Risk Of Covid-19 After Healthcare Workers Test Positive

Things That Matter

Brazil’s Remote Indigenous Communities Are At Risk Of Covid-19 After Healthcare Workers Test Positive

Michael Dantas / Getty Images

The Coronavirus pandemic has been ravaging Brazilian cities for months. In fact, Brazil is number two in the world when it comes to both deaths and infections. Cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have struggled to carry on as much of the economy and the health care system has collapsed. Many have attributed these dire conditions as consequences of President Bolsonaro’s failed policies.

Now, Brazil’s remote Indigenous communities are facing a similar crisis – although one that could be even worse thanks to a severe lack of access to medical care. A team of medical workers sent to protect the country’s native populations has actually done the opposite – as more than a thousands workers test positive for the virus and have spread it among remote tribes.

For months, as the Coronavirus tore through Brazil, Indigenous tribes across the vast country have tried to protect themselves by strictly limiting access to their villages. Some have setup armed roadblocks and others have hunkered down in isolated camps.

But it appears that all of that may have been in vain. According to interviews and federal data obtained by The New York Times, the health workers charged by the federal government with protecting the country’s Indigenous populations may be responsible for spreading the disease in several Indigenous communities. More than 1,000 workers with the federal Indigenous health service, known as Sesai, have tested positive for Coronavirus as of early July.

As news of the infections spread across the villages, communities became alarmed. “Many people grabbed some clothes, a hammock and ran into the forest to hide,” said Thoda Kanamari, a leader of the union of Indigenous peoples in the vast territory, home to groups with little contact with the outside world. “But it was too late, everyone was already infected.”

Health workers say they have been plagued by insufficient testing and protective gear. Working without protective equipment or access to enough tests, these workers may have inadvertently endangered the very communities they were trying to help.

Now, news of the region’s first deaths linked to the virus have started to emerge and there’s fear it will get much worse.

Credit: Tarso Sarraf / Getty Images

The remote villages that dot the Amazon region have also started to report their very first deaths linked to Coronavirus. Despite raging out of control in Brazil’s cities, remote Indigenous villages have faired quite well. That’s all beginning to change.

The Amazon region, which Brazil’s government says is home to greatest concentration of isolated Indigenous groups in the world, is now seeing an outbreak of Covid-19 – one that many fear will be hard to stop. Experts fear the new coronavirus could spread rapidly among people with less resistance even to already common diseases and limited access to health care, potentially wiping out some smaller groups.

So far, more than 15,500 Indigenous Brazilians have been diagnosed with the Coronavirus, including at least 10,889 living in protected territories, according to Instituto Socioambiental, an Indigenous rights organization. At least 523 have died.

The alarming news comes as Brazil continues to struggle in its response to the pandemic.

Credit: Michael Dantas / Getty Images

With nearly 2.1 million confirmed cases and more than 80,000 deaths, as of July 22, Brazil’s Covid-19 catastrophe is the world’s second worst, after the United States.

And now an illness that has ravaged major cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo is at risk of spreading unchecked in some of the county’s most vulnerable communities. Health care workers, Indigenous leaders and experts blame major shortcomings that have turned Brazil into a global epicenter of the pandemic.

Robson Santos da Silva, the Army colonel at the head of Sesai, defended the agency’s response during the pandemic, and brushed off criticism as “a lot of disinformation, a lot of politics.”

Complicating the outbreak in Brazil’s remote villages (and even in the large cities) is that tests have been in short supply and often unreliable, which means some doctors and nurses with asymptomatic or undiagnosed cases have traveled to vulnerable communities and worked in them for days.

Criticism of President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic, within Indigenous territories and beyond, is mounting.

Brazil has largely struggled to contain the pandemic thanks to the policies of its populist right-wing president who has denounced the pandemic as nothing more than a “little flu.” Within a couple of months of the initial outbreak, Bolsonaro lost two health ministers – who were physicians – and replaced them with an Army general who has no experience in health care.

And the backlash to Bolsonaro’s failed policies seems to be growing. Early this month, a judge on Brazil’s Supreme Court ordered the government to redouble efforts to shield Indigenous people from the virus by coming up with a comprehensive plan within 30 days and setting up a “situation room” staffed by officials and Indigenous representatives.

More recently, another Supreme Court judge generated consternation in the Bolsonaro administration by warning that the armed forces could be held responsible for a “genocide” over their handling of the pandemic in Indigenous communities.

Greta Thunberg Is Donating $114,000 To The Brazilian Amazon

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Greta Thunberg Is Donating $114,000 To The Brazilian Amazon

Leon Neal / Getty

Greta Thunberg’s activism has mobilized hundreds of thousands of people across the globe to make the world a better place. She first gripped the attention of people the world over when she began holding climate strikes and further captured awareness a year later when she was 16. At the time she condemned political leaders like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson in a speech for their part in the environmental crisis.

Now, even as the world seems to be on pause with the current pandemic, Thunberg is showing no signs of slowing down with her efforts

The teen climate activist announced that she will donate a portion of a $1.14 million prize she received to fighting the ongoing coronavirus crisis in the Brazilian Amazon.

Earlier this week, the teen activist won the very first Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity for her role in environmental activism. The prize was launched by Portugal’s Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

In a video posted to her Twitter account, Thunberg accepted the honor and said the winning prize was “more money than [she] can even begin to imagine.” The large amount inspired Thunberg to give the money away through her foundation. Thunberg says that she will give $114,000 to SOS Amazônia, an environmental organization that CNN says is “working to protect the rainforest that also works to fight the pandemic in indigenous territories of the Amazon through access to basic hygiene, food, and health equipment.”

Thunberg will also donate $114,000 to the Stop Ecocide Foundation.

The foundation works to make environmental destruction (or ecocide) a recognized international crime. Thunberg explained in her Twitter announcement that the rest of the prize money will be given to causes that “help people on the front lines affected by the climate crisis and ecological crisis especially in the global South.”

One hundred and thirty-six nominees from forty-six countries were considered for the prize that Thunberg was ultimately selected for.

The Chair of the Grand Jury Prize, Jorge Sampaio, explained in the announcement for the winner that Thunberg was selected for her effort to “mobilize younger generations for the cause of climate change.”

It’s not the first prize that Thunberg has won in recent months. Earlier in May she was honored with a $100,000 award for her activism and donated all of it to UNICEF “to protect children from the Covid-19 pandemic.” The award was given to her by Denmark’s Human Act foundation.