BBC exposes scandal of Brazilian government neglect

August 27, 2002

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Last Amazonian hunter-gatherers face extinction

As world leaders gather in Johannesburg for the world summit on sustainable development, the BBC features tomorrow the appalling situation of the Awá people, one of the last nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes living in the Amazon in Brazil. It concludes that 'the Awá people face extinction because the Brazilian government has reneged on it pledges to protect their land.'

The Awá are a tribe of nomadic hunter-gatherers. Since the 1950s they have been viciously persecuted, hunted down and murdered by gunmen employed by cattle ranchers and loggers who are invading and plundering their land. The massive Carajás development project, funded by the World Bank and European Union has opened up their lands to colonists who are pouring in in ever greater numbers. For 20 years the Brazilian government has failed to demarcate and protect Awá land, despite the fact World Bank funding is available to do so, and demarcation was a condition of its loan to Brazil in 1982.

The contacted Awá number about 230 and about a further 60 – 100 are uncontacted, hiding in fragments of forest in small family groups, fleeing from the loggers and settlers. Many Awá have tragic stories. Karapiru was the survivor of a massacre by ranchers who wiped out his entire family. Kamara, a hunter featured in the BBC piece, narrowly escaped death when a settler shot at him recently.

The BBC piece concludes that 'What's at stake now is not just the Awa's way of life as one of the last nomadic tribe of hunters in the Amazon – the threat is to their very existence.' To'o, an Awá man, said 'We have fled to the depths of the forest and we are cornered. If the government doesn't demarcate our land now, it will end up like a desert.'

Survival is launching an urgent campaign in support of the Awá. Director Stephen Corry, said 'The Brazilian government must act immediately to protect the Awá. If it does not, they face genocide and will disappear as a people.'

Photos and footage available. For more information contact Fiona Watson on (+44) (0)20 7687 8730 or email [email protected]