Colombia: disease threatens survival of Amazon tribe displaced by political violence

Health workers in Colombia’s remote southeast report that an outbreak of respiratory disease has struck one of the Amazon’s last nomadic tribes—whose numbers have already been decimated by flu and malaria. Around 35 members of the Nukak-Maku people, including nine children, have been admitted to the hospital at departmental capital San JosĂ© del Guaviare. Local health director HĂ©ctor Muñoz told Colombia’s RCN radio that the hospital is well over capacity, leaving some Nukak with only make-shift beds. Many members of the tribe have been living in a refugee camp on the outskirts of San JosĂ© since being pushed out of their rainforest home by illegal armed groups and drug traffickers. Since they first emerged from the forest in 1988, more than half the tribe has been wiped out.

Unlike most Amazonian tribes, the Nukak-Maku are traditionally highly nomadic hunter-gatherers, living in small temporary homes in the deep forest between larger rivers. But for many years the tribe’s homeland has been occupied by coca-growers, and Colombia’s violent civil war has engulfed their territory, leaving them unable to return home. Survival International has written to Colombia’s Health Ministry asking it to act immediately to safeguard the Nukak’s health.

Survival’s director, Stephen Corry, said, “This is really tragic news. After all these years the Nukak’s desperate situation remains the same, with no home, poor health, and little prospect for a better life. What’s so frustrating is that this burden, both for the Nukak and the state, wouldn’t exist if only the Nukak could go back to their forest – as they desperately wish to do.” (Survival International, June 23; RCN, June 20)

See our last post on Colombia and the struggle for the Amazon.

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