Sustaining life: Indigenous Girls and COVID-19 within the Ecuadorian Amazon

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Rio Pastaza within the Ecuadorian Amazon. Picture credit score: Núria Vilà by way of Flickr

The Coronavirus Pandemic within the Amazon Forest

The colonization of pure areas and human contact with animals which might be reservoirs of viruses and pathogens is the primary hyperlink within the chain that explains the pandemics of current years. H1N1 influenza, extreme acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), avian flu, and SARS-CoV-2 all emerged partially on account of inhabitants development, accelerated urbanization and environmental degradation. Pandemics decimate populations and have an effect on governability.  The COVID-19 pandemic reveals us the unfavourable results that growing charges of deforestation and commercialization of wildlife can have for humanity. After spreading the world over from its origin in Wuhan, China, the virus has made Latin America considered one of its epicenters.

Within the entirety of the Amazon basin, 73,767 instances of COVID-19, and a couple of,139 deaths have been registered amongst indigenous folks. Extractive industries, agricultural enterprise, forestry, and authorized and unlawful mining are all thought-about vectors of epidemiological disturbance and may contribute to the unfold of the pandemic.  These actions function in indigenous territories, bringing in exterior actors  who can unfold the virus to those communities. Indigenous peoples have traditionally been vulnerable to exogenous illnesses (reminiscent of measles, smallpox, and yellow fever epidemics), which have traditionally left a path of dying by these communities. This pandemic has likewise been devastating.

Within the Ecuadorian Amazon, at the start of December 2020, 13,851 instances of COVID-19 had been reported, out of a complete of 196,482 instances in Ecuador. Of those, 3,240 instances have been amongst indigenous peoples, with 50 COVID-19 confirmed deaths, and 54 deaths with signs of COVID-19. The province with the best variety of infections amongst indigenous individuals at this level was Morona Santiago (1,000 instances), adopted by Pastaza (715), Orellana (583), Napo (482), Sucumbíos (321), and Zamora Chinchipe (114) provinces (See Determine 1).

Within the Ecuadorian Amazon, the primary instances have been reported in mid-April among the many Siekopai folks in Sucumbíos province, in addition to Waorani folks in Orellana province. June and July confirmed elevated infections among the many indigenous, with Kichwa folks probably the most affected, adopted by Shuar and Waorani. If COVID-19 instances proceed to extend amongst sure ethnic minorities within the Ecuadorian Amazon such because the Andwa, Sapara, Siekopai, and Siona, these teams might face extinction. The identical holds true for the Waorani, and for remoted indigenous peoples such because the Tagaeri and Taromenane.

Determine 1. COVID-19 in Amazonian territories

Supply: CONFENIAE (Document November 26,2020)

On this essay, based mostly on interviews carried out with girls leaders and from the evaluation of webinars by which they’ve participated, we describe the components which have influenced the infections, the conditions skilled by the communities, and their responses, contemplating, specifically, the company of girls.   Forestry and unlawful mining have elevated throughout the pandemic as a result of loosening of state environmental controls. Oil extraction and formal mining actions have additionally intensified in sure areas in response to neoliberal insurance policies that encourage them within the curiosity of accumulating financial earnings.  Each dynamics have contributed to the contagion of COVID-19 in these communities.   In Waorani communities situated within the Napo and Orellana provinces, the continual entry of oil staff from completely different areas of the nation, throughout the numerous concession blocks that function within the Yasuní Nationwide Park, has elevated threat and publicity. The Kichwa and Waorani peoples additionally attribute the rise in COVID-19 instances to unlawful forestry operations which have introduced balsa wooden sellers to the communities by river and land, with none sort of management by the Ministry of the Atmosphere and Water. Within the Amazon, as in lots of marginalized areas of Latin America, the excessive diploma of inequality and the stratification of public well being techniques have restricted the availability of well being protection. Its infrastructure is inadequate to satisfy the wants of the inhabitants, and has little capability to trace and reply to epidemiological tendencies.  Specifically, the state reveals little curiosity within the well being of indigenous populations. The well being facilities situated in indigenous areas aren’t properly geared up to diagnose and deal with COVID-19; the hospitals in Amazonian cities are removed from these communities and, as well as, their intensive care models have little capability when it comes to medical tools and workers. Indigenous girls face further boundaries when it comes to entry to healthcare providers, as a consequence of longstanding societal discrimination based mostly on class, ethnicity, and gender. Because the coronavirus spreads amongst Amazonian peoples, it could be stated that the inaction and indifference on the a part of the state, within the face of accelerating deaths amongst indigenous populations, expresses a sort of necropolitics, renewing an outdated historical past of exclusion and extermination.


The Results on Indigenous Girls


In interviews, indigenous girls point out that along with exterior components, the neighborhood members’ personal mobility from rural areas to Amazonian cities, for meals and provides and for work and training, has contributed to infections.  In line with cultural practices, households have a tendency to have interaction in actions that make the social distancing measures really helpful by the Nationwide Service of Danger and Emergency Administration (COE) and well being care officers, tough to comply with. They normally meet to drink chicha (fermented grain beverage) collectively, within the early mornings share guayusa tea, and routinely undertake communitarian work known as minga. These girls report that neighborhood members have been visiting contaminated family members to carry them medicinal crops and that prolonged kinship teams congregate at funerals, with out defending themselves with masks.

Because the COVID-19 disaster started to unfold, it upended day by day household day by day life. The work of caring (carrying water, meals preparation, washing garments, baby care, on so forth) performed by girls successfully tripled, as in addition they took on not solely caring for the sick but additionally the extreme cleansing and disinfecting of houses; all the look after crops and provisioning turned largely depending on girls when males acquired contaminated and couldn’t go fishing or searching.

In Pastaza, the state of affairs worsened for girls when floods occurred throughout the pandemic, and the overflow of a number of rivers broken crops.  Girls from the two-thousand indigenous households dwelling within the riverside communities of Napo and Coca in Orellana skilled much more essential conditions after an oil spill of fifteen thousand barrels occurred on account of the rupture of the Trans-Ecuadorian Pipeline System and the Heavy Crude Oil Pipeline in April 2020. The oil spill jeopardized these households’ entry to scrub water and worsened their meals insecurity, as they may now not fish within the contaminated rivers.

The financial state of affairs of indigenous girls that reside in Amazonian cities has additionally been harder, because it has not been doable for them to seek out paid work or promote handicrafts and different merchandise throughout the quarantine.


Girls, Therapeutic Information, and Mutual Care


Previously, Amazonian households responded to epidemics by going to non permanent shelters additional into the jungle—away from populated facilities with the intention to keep away from contagion. Within the midst of this present epidemic, some households have performed this. The Achuar and Waorani took the prevention measure of prohibiting gentle plane from touchdown of their territory to stop the entry of outsiders and even the return of neighborhood members who have been in city facilities and might be contaminated.

Firstly of Could, the Siekopai addressed the nice urgency of their state of affairs.  On Could 21, the leaders of the Waorani folks proposed the adoption of precautionary measures by which they demanded that the Ecuadorian state prioritize indigenous healthcare by equipping healthcare facilities, offering intensive testing in communities, and freezing extractive operations in indigenous territories.

In line with girls leaders interviewed, the Ministry of Public Well being and COE have performed little to stop the unfold of the virus within the Amazon, to detect instances, or to supply well timed healthcare in these communities. In response, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE) and different organizations have labored in alliance with NGOs and a few universities with the intention to present preventive info on COVID-19 to indigenous communities. They’ve distributed booklets on preventive measures in numerous indigenous languages, managed the help of medical brigades, have applied fast exams, and proceed to watch instances and deaths as a consequence of COVID-19.

As well as, inside these communities, girls have utilized their ancestral data and their historic reminiscence of the usage of medicinal crops for various remedies reminiscent of infusion drinks and vaporizations. They use tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L.), chugchuguazo (Maytenus macrocarpa,) chikta, chalwacaspi (Goeppertia standleyi), nettle (urtica), chiricaspi (Brunfelsia grandiflora), mushuwaska (filaben), wantuk (Brugmansia arborea), chulla chaqui, cascarilla (cinchona pubescens), zaragoza, claw of cat, garlic (Mansoa alliacea), guayusa (Ilex guayusa), and ginger (Zingiber officinale). In some instances, they’ve additionally used medicinal crops together with capsules and vitamin dietary supplements.

To stop the unfold of the virus, indigenous girls disinfect the inside of their houses with verbena (Verbena officinalis), wantuk, and garlic. The therapeutic course of might embrace dietary modifications, reminiscent of prescribing the consumption of fish and prohibiting meat consumption. The sick are handled with nettle to cut back extreme complications, and baths with liana and different crops are prescribed for physique aches.

The remedies from medicinal crops and minerals utilized by yachakuna (clever girls) are derived from historic reminiscence, and are practiced in accordance with the recommendation of the elders.  Indigenous girls set up deep relations with their surroundings to revive well being, counting on conventional data of crops of their territory. The indigenous peoples view the jungle as greater than merely a location that provides them with sources for his or her subsistence.  They think about that every one the non-human beings, even the rocks and minerals that interrelate with them within the jungle, have conscience, subjectivity, interiority, and company.

The social practices of indigenous girls have additionally come into play of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Girls leaders have risked their well being by visiting contaminated communities to supply meals donations. Additionally, indigenous girls dwelling in Amazonian cities have supported one another, and have used their pure drugs to help mestizo households in accordance with neighborhood values, such because the Kichwa precept of minkanakuy, the reciprocal care amongst all dwelling beings.

The usage of conventional drugs and practices inside and between indigenous communities has emerged as a significant type of healthcare within the context of the pandemic, as many indigenous folks select to not go to the hospital as a result of “they [hear] that in hospitals folks die, there are not any beds, no care is given, so they’re frightened […], for these causes they obtain the care of yachak and take the ancestral drugs of nature.”




The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the Amazon extraordinarily onerous. Lots of the indigenous girls interviewed consider that the extent and severity of the sickness of their communities is as a result of neglect of the state. As this essay has explored, a number of components have affected the unfold of the virus: the presence of actors linked to extractive industries and unlawful deforestation, and the dynamics of mobility and cultural relationships that make social distancing a tough challenge to perform. Given the shortage of COVID-19 diagnostic brigades, the poor infrastructure circumstances in medical facilities, and the distances to city hospitals (the place there are nonetheless not sufficient medical tools and infrastructure), indigenous communities have most well-liked to deal with instances internally, with girls taking part in a key position. They’ve turned to the preparation of pure drugs by seeking to their surroundings and drawing on conventional data and therapeutic practices associated to medicinal crops. On the similar time, they search to harmonize their relations with their environment, to return to their very own therapeutic practices and data to keep up a community of care to maintain life.   Though the illness has compromised the well being of many indigenous populations, affecting their lifestyle, having possession of neighborhood lands permits them to supply themselves with meals, handle their crops, and entry fishing and different parts of the forest, together with medicinal crops. As well as, indigenous girls have woven a community of assist between young and old, and between those that are within the communities and others who’ve migrated to the cities. All of this helps to make sure subsistence and social copy of those communities amid this devastating world pandemic. 

—Ivette Vallejo and Marisol Rodríguez

Ivette Vallejo Actual (PhD) is analysis professor within the Division of Growth, Atmosphere and Territory at FLACSO Ecuador. 

Marisol Rodríguez Pérez is a PhD candidate in Sociology at FLACSO Ecuador. She holds a masters’ diploma in anthropology.  



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