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Public Library of Science, PLOS Global Public Health, 3(2), p. e0000166, 2022

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgph.0000166



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The impact of COVID-19 on the indigenous peoples related to air and road networks and habitat loss

This paper is made freely available by the publisher.
This paper is made freely available by the publisher.

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The vegetation loss in the Brazil’s Legal Amazon (BLA) in 2020 corresponds to the highest loss observed in a decade, caused by the intensification of fires, mineral extraction activities, and other pressures. The possibility of earning from illegal activities such as deforestation and mining attracts the population to indigenous territories, while fires aggravate respiratory problems and enhance the current COVID-19 crisis. Furthermore, the BLA’s road network is usually related to increased deforestation and fires in its areas of influence, and airports are known to contribute to spreading COVID-19 infections worldwide. Therefore, we decided to evaluate the effect of characteristics of Special Indigenous Health Districts (DSEIs) (including population, number of airports, and extent of the road network) and vegetation loss rates (deforestation, and area of vegetation lost by fires and mining) on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths among the indigenous population in DSEIs in the BLA. We observed a positive correlation between the number of cases and deaths and the number of Indigenous Primary Healthcare Units, suggesting that many of these units did not increase appropriate activities for prevention and protection from COVID-19 in the DSEIs. The DSEIs with larger air transport and road networks were more affected by COVID-19. These networks constituted critical mechanisms for facilitating the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the BLA. Additionally, we noted that changes that impact the landscape of DSEIs, such as fires and mining, also impact legal indigenous areas (IAs). Thus, IAs are not spared from exploratory processes in the district’s landscape. Models that associate the air transport and road networks with the transformation of the landscape in IAs from burning or mining can explain the number of indigenous people who died due to COVID-19. These results are particularly important given the current disruptive scenario imposed by the Brazilian government on critical institutions that detect and fight fires in indigenous lands and the policies enacted to combat COVID-19 in Brazil, which are based on denying isolation measures and delaying vaccinations.