A hammock of dark cloth envelops the tiny frame of a girl so thin that her skin is stretched tight over her ribs. She weighs just 12.5 kilograms, whereas the average weight for a child of her age is closer to 20. This photograph of the eight-year-old, a member of the Yanomami indigenous people who inhabit the Amazon rainforest, was taken in the village of Maimasi, in Roraima state in northern Brazil, and lays bare the chronic problem of poor healthcare facing indigenous people in the heart of the Amazon.
The child is suffering from malaria, pneumonia, malnutrition and worms in a region where there are no regular visits from healthcare workers and which is 11 hours on foot from the nearest clinic. The image was captured on April 23, a few days before she was airlifted to a hospital in the regional capital of Boa Vista, where she has now recovered from malaria but continues to be treated for other diseases. The picture has become a symbol of Brazil’s historical abandonment of the Yanomami, who are fighting for their survival amid various crises: the escalation of violence by illegal miners, environmental issues that have caused hunger in some areas and the scarcity of access to medical attention.
There are areas where people have not received the Covid-19 vaccine because there are no health professionals
Júnior Yanomami, a member of the Indigenous District Health Council
Indigenous leader Darío Kopenawa, who authorized the use of the image for this report, explains: “In the Yanomami culture we cannot display the image of a frail, unwell child. But it is very important [to do so] because of the crisis we are going through.” For the Yanomami, images of a person are an important part of their existence and they believe allowing them to be viewed when someone is unwell can weaken them further. When a member of the Yanomami dies, all memories of the deceased must be burned to preserve their spirit in the afterlife, but the community decided to publish this photograph when the child was awaiting treatment to draw the attention of the napëpë – the Yanomami word for non-indigenous people – to their suffering in the midst of the healthcare emergency that is threatening their way of life.
“This photograph is a response to the violation of the rights of the indigenous peoples,” says Kopenawa. While malaria and the coronavirus move through the villages, community leaders report that healthcare teams have been reduced with medical professionals out of action due to the pandemic and other illnesses. Healthcare centers have been temporarily closed and there are no helicopters available to transport patients in remote areas. “We have been suffering for a long time, without a proper structure, without the professionals to assist us. With the pandemic, the situation has gotten worse,” Kopenawa says.
These issues affect the most isolated communities in particular, where people depend on the sporadic visits of the medical teams. Júnior Yanomami, a member of the Indigenous District Health Council, adds: “There are areas where people have not received the Covid-19 vaccine because there are no health professionals. These are communities that are far away from the clinics and there is no way for people to get to them.” In Brazil, ethnic groups are at the end of the line for the Covid-19 vaccine.
Malaria and malnutrition
“The health of the Yanomami is being neglected. Everything is lacking,” continues Júnior Yanomami. According to the community leader the village of Maimasi, which is in the grip of a malaria outbreak and where several children are suffering from malnutrition and verminosis, had not been visited by healthcare teams in six months when they treated the girl in the picture (which was circulated by a Catholic missionary and published in Folha de São Paulo), at the end of April. The team that did make it there did not have enough medication for all those that needed it, he adds.
The Secretariat of Indigenous Health (Sesai), the government department responsible for the care of ethnic groups, gives a different version: they say that the team provided assistance on March 19 “but the family did not give its authorization for transfer to a hospital.” Sesai also says it has sufficient reserves of medicines and medical professionals under contract, but it did not state how often the teams visit Maimasi. Sesai also failed to inform EL PAÍS of the number of incidences of malaria, malnutrition and infant mortality to give an idea of the spread of illnesses in the region.
These healthcare problems do not extend across the entirety of the Yanomami’s lands – roughly the size of Portugal – but they are present in several communities. A study published last year by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) in two areas, Auaris and Maturaká, provides some clues to the magnitude of the problem: 80% of children up to the age of five were suffering from chronic malnutrition and 50% from acute malnutrition in these locations.
Factors contributing to the problem include the scarcity of drinking water and a lack of nutritional guidance and prenatal attention during pregnancy, in addition to the frequency of cases of malaria, diarrhea and verminosis among communities. “We have been explaining our needs and asking the government for help since 2019,” says Júnior Yanomami. “Now the situation is worse. Malnutrition has increased greatly. Where there is illegal mining, there is also the problem of hunger. And during the pandemic incursions have been more frequent. How can the hunger of the Yanomami be explained? They [the miners] pollute the rivers, they destroy the forest, they kill all the animals for hunting. We live off nature.”
The residents of Maimasi are descendants of one of the groups that has been most affected by the opening of the BR-210 north perimeter federal highway in the 1970s, during the military dictatorship. During that time, a large part of the group died amid outbreaks of measles and other diseases transmitted by construction workers. They have been asking the government for a local clinic for years, but for now, the Yanomami in Maimasi are reliant on the occasional visits of healthcare teams.
The threat of illegal mining
If the situation wasn’t already precarious enough, since last year it has gotten considerably worse. As the visits of the medical teams have dropped off, the activities of the illegal miners have increased, leading to a greater possibility of contagious diseases being passed on, and more violence. Cases of malaria, which have afflicted indigenous peoples for decades and which Sesai considers “endemic,” continue to rise. According to Júnior Yanomami, this year alone 10,000 cases have been reported, which corresponds to a third of the entire Yanomami population of around 29,000 people. “The girl in the picture is probably an expression of the sum of these tragedies,” says the monitoring network Red Pro-Yanomami y Ye’kwana in a statement.
The diverse sanitary, environmental and social problems the Yanomami face are not unrelated. Deforestation in the Amazon last April was at its highest rate over the past six years, according to the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research. Forest clearing has increased year-on-year and the resulting environmental imbalance and impact on biodiversity affect the diet of the peoples that inhabit the Amazon, who live on what they farm, fish and hunt.
In several areas, the presence of illegal miners and loggers also leads to the contamination of rivers with mercury, which contributes to malnutrition, dehydration and diarrhea. Faced with the reduction of resources in the forest and a subsequent lack of food, some indigenous people have started to look for work with the napëpë and adopted an industrialized and less nutritious diet. “You can’t generalize and say that children are dying of malnutrition and hunger,” says Kopenawa. “There is a problem where there are illegal miners. Where there are none, the children are healthy, eat well and go about their activities. What is lacking is medical attention. The way of life of the Yanomami is under threat. Our lands are vulnerable against so many problems at once.”
In addition to health and environmental problems, violence has escalated in some areas such as the indigenous community of Palimiu, in Roraima. Earlier this month, the inhabitants were subjected to a sustained attack by illegal miners who aimed shots, bombs and tear gas at them. A week ago, the miners exchanged gunfire with the federal police while they were looking into the complaints about attacks on the village. Júnior Yanomami, who was visiting the community at the time, says the scale of the violence was unprecedented. “I had never seen so many gunshots. Only in the movies. There were a lot of them [illegal miners] and they had heavy weapons.”
The way of life of the Yanomami is under threat. Our lands are vulnerable against so many problems at once
Indigenous leader Darío Kopenawa
Last year, the Yanomami set up a sanitary barricade to stop the illegal miners from entering their lands and to try and prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But the Uraricoera river, where the barrier was set up, is one of the main thoroughfares of activity for miners. On April 24, the Yanomami prevented a group from passing through. They attempted to negotiate to stop them from returning. The response to their request, according to Júnior Yanomami, came half an hour later with shots fired in the direction of the village. The Yanomami defended themselves with arrows and rifles.
The various conflicts during the past week, according to the indigenous people, left three miners and a Yanomami wounded. Two children drowned while fleeing from the firing, say community leaders. The last attack reported took place last Sunday. “It’s a very serious situation. Everybody there is very afraid. I stayed behind,” says Júnior Yanomami. “There are Yanomami in danger. I fear there could be a massacre at any moment. The federal government has to do something.”
Indigenous organizations say the stance of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has spoken out against the demarcation of the Yanomami’s lands and expressed his support for the regularization of mining on indigenous territories, is stoking the conflict. On May 12, the army deployed soldiers in Palimiu, but they were withdrawn just hours later. The 1st Infantry Brigade, based in Boa Vista, did not respond to a request to clarify if they would dispatch units again and what the reasons were for their standing down.
In the meantime, the Yanomami remain in a state of alert and fear, say community leaders. Until the panorama changes, they will also be without medical services after the Sesai withdrew their workers due to the seriousness of the situation. “The active service unit will be re-established as soon as it is possible to operate in safety,” says the Secretariat of Indigenous Health, adding that emergency care will be carried out as and when possible in the indigenous health care district that is outside the territory. For its part, the governmental National Indian Foundation did not respond to El PAÍS for this report.
“The atmosphere is one of fear. A lot of fear,” says Júnior Yanomami. “At the moment they are on their own, without the federal police, without the army, and without medical aid. They are alone to defend their homes.”
English version by Rob Train.
Afghanistan’s top TV interviewer: ‘I’ve assimilated the fact that the Taliban will kill me in the end’ | USA
Saeed Shinwari, one of the stars of Afghanistan’s ToloTV, has not left its headquarters in the center of Kabul for a month. Every day, he wakes up wondering whether the Taliban might take his life, recalling the day the fundamentalists entered the Afghan capital on August 15 and searched his house. A week earlier, the secret services of the now toppled former government had warned him he was on a hit list. “I’ve assimilated the fact that the Taliban will kill me in the end,” he said flatly, further disheartened by the fact that he has no contacts to get him out of the country.
Shinwari hasn’t seen his family at all in that time, he confided from the compound where he works, eats, sleeps and, above all, despairs. The 31-year-old journalist has a wife and four children, but is the main breadwinner for an extended family that includes his parents, sisters, brothers and nephews. “They came to my house and turned everything inside out. My mother asked them what they were looking for and they told her it was some card linking me to the government [Shinwari did work as a spokesperson for a government agency in 2019]. Since then, the stress means I can’t eat, or smile, I feel depressed. What can I do?”
He is aware of the public relations campaign the Taliban have deployed, targeting international journalists. “One thing the [former government] and the Taliban have in common, or actually every government in this country since the mujahideen, is that they love the foreign press, but they hate the local media,” he said. “If the Taliban stop you,” he told this reporter, “they will treat you with respect; if they stop me, they will most likely beat me up because of my shows and my career.”
The big question that I ask myself, that all Afghans ask themselves, is why the world has done this to us, why they have abandoned us
This is not the first time Shinwari has potentially faced violence. He suffered threats from the local branch of the Islamic State (ISIS-K) in his native Nangarhar, where he started working as a journalist nine years ago. But national recognition came when he signed up to work at ToloNews in 2017. His talk show, a format similar to the BBC’s Hard Talk, achieved fame for the sharpness of his questions and how he made his guests uncomfortable.
That is, until the Taliban came along. “They just show up here for us to interview them without regard for whether it is newsworthy,” he said indignantly. A few days ago, Abdul Hanan Haqqani, a leader of the movement’s most hardline faction, stopped by to be interviewed by Shinwari. “When we finished, he said he was surprised that I had treated him in a balanced way. I replied that if I knew they were not going to kill me, I would have asked him a lot of questions that interest people,” he said, though it is perhaps possible he just thought about saying that. What is certain is that many of those who follow his show have asked him what is wrong, and why he is no longer so inquisitive.
”We are going on the air with a lot of censorship,” he confessed. “I hate them with all my might. They’ve taken our country away from us. If you lose money, it’s okay, you can get it back; but if you lose your country, you’ve lost everything,” he lamented. “The big question that I ask myself, that all Afghans ask themselves, is why the world has done this to us, why they have abandoned us,” he concluded.
Tolo’s owner, Saad Mohseni, confirmed that they have had “several workers beaten and threatened,” without going into detail about Shinwari’s case. ToloTV was Afghanistan’s first private television network and something of a revolution in news and entertainment. It also operated with an inclusive policy for gender and ethnicity. Mohseni told EL PAÍS that most of its female employees had resigned after the arrival of the Taliban. Meanwhile, journalists from other Afghan media have also been brutally beaten for attempting to cover a demonstration.
‘He saw the panic’: the Afghan men who fell from the US jet | Global development
When Zaki Anwari scaled the fence of Kabul airport, he was determined to escape. The 17-year-old footballer with the Afghan national youth team had taken a break from studying maths for his exams to accompany his brother as he tried to catch a flight. Zaki had always told his family he was not interested in going abroad, unless he could return to Afghanistan.
But the Taliban takeover had changed things. Zaki did not have a passport but, as night fell on Kabul after the Taliban took control of the city, he told his brother Zakir that he wanted to leave. Zakir did his best to talk him out of it, but he would not let go of the idea.
Zaki was one of at least a dozen men who clambered onboard the outside of a US air force C-17 Globemaster transport plane as it taxied on the runway the following day. None of them made it to the plane’s destination, the Al Udeid airbase in Qatar.
The plane had landed a short while earlier to deliver equipment to US forces. The night before, another aircraft had evacuated 823 people fleeing the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and Zaki joined the new arrivals on the airport runway, hoping for a similar escape.
Monday 16 August was clear and bright, and the young athlete was supposed to be guarding the family’s car with Zakir while their older brother, Naser, jostled among people outside the airport clutching documents to leave.
Just before 11am, Zaki called Ahmad, the only brother still at home, to tell him he had jumped over the perimeter wall around the airport. “I’m close to the airplane now, they’ll register our names after they put us in the plane, and then I’ll lose [the] phone signal. I’m going to throw my phone away,” he said.
Ahmad shouted at him to come home until Zaki hung up. Twenty minutes later, Zaki called his mother to speak to his sister, telling her that he felt he had a chance to board the plane, and asking her to pray for him. His mother put him on speaker to scream at him to come home, chiding him that he had no passport or travel documents.
Seeing the crowds rushing towards the plane, the crew decided that they had to take off. The hulking grey aircraft began taxiing as throngs of people ran alongside it. Amid the chaos, a small number climbed on to a wide fairing above the wheels and a smooth broad area above the wheel well.
Video shared by Asvaka, an Afghan news agency, shows the men smiling nervously and waving to others gathered next to the tarmac, with at least 12 onboard. Some waved excitedly, the wind whipping their hair as the plane picked up speed. Two jumped off and made a dash back into the crowd before the plane took off.
Shocked bystanders looked up at the sky, some filming on their phones, as at least two bodies fell from the plane as it flew south over Kabul. Afghans commenting online drew comparisons to the “Falling Man”, photographed falling from the twin towers on 11 September 2001, a grim bookend to the US presence in Afghanistan. The men who fell were barely children, some not even born, when the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan 20 years earlier.
Fada Mohammad, 24 , was born into a world of civil war and Taliban rule four years before the US invasion in 2001. The young dentist had long dreamed of leaving, but lacked a plan or the financial means. His father, Payenda Mohammad, said Fada had been looking for ways to find money since getting married last year.
“Fada had talked about wanting to travel, but financially things were bad here. Anyone looking at the situation in this country would want to be elsewhere, and Fada was no different,” Payenda said. Fada was the family’s breadwinner, supporting 13 others.
Fada left as usual for work on the morning of 16 August. His wife and family had no idea he was heading to the airport. “He said goodbye to us just like any normal day, when he left for work at 8.30am,” said Payenda. “He didn’t say anything about the airport, or travel.”
Even in his grief, Ahmad tried to understand why Zaki clung to the plane. “He saw the panic, he saw the Taliban – anyone would be scared,” he said.
What happened next is the subject of an investigation by the US air force. Its spokeswoman, Ann Stefanek, said the plane was surrounded by civilians who had breached the airport walls before it could offload its cargo. “Faced with a rapidly deteriorating security situation around the aircraft, the C-17 crew decided to depart the airfield as quickly as possible,” she said. American helicopters flew in front of the plane to clear space on the runway to take off.
The official account and videos indicate that the pilot was either unable to see the men clinging to the plane after takeoff, or was unwilling to stop the plane. The flap the men had used to climb on to the wheel well folds under the aircraft as the landing gear are retracted. Those who did not fall were probably crushed to death.
“In addition to videos seen online and in press reports, human remains were discovered in the wheel well of the C-17 after it landed at Al Udeid air base, Qatar. The aircraft is currently impounded to provide time to collect the remains and inspect the aircraft before it is returned to flying status,” said Stefanek.
Authorities in Kabul maintain that the US crew could have acted differently. “Those men thought the pilot would stop and transfer them to the inside of the plane,” said an Afghan health ministry official, who tried to identify some of the men after they fell to their deaths. The official has not been named for his own safety.
One of the men fell inside the airport perimeter, while two more hit rooftops in a neighbourhood close to the airport. A resident who heard a body land on a roof described it as sounding “like a bomb”.
The Anwaris said that, not long after the plane had taken off, someone called Zaki’s sister from his phone to tell her they had found his body. The family believe Zaki was crushed under the wheels of the plane as it departed, or possibly in the landing gear as it retracted into the wheel well.
Fada’s wife grew concerned after her husband did not call as usual at 10am to say he’d arrived at work. “Then at 2pm, we got a call from a stranger asking if we know Fada Mohammad,” said Payenda. The stranger said they had found Fada’s body, and that he had been thrown from the aircraft. Payenda rushed to collect his son’s body.
The brother of another victim, 15-year-old Mateen, told the Pajhwok news agency that the family had been unable to find him after spotting Mateen in a video showing the group sitting on a tyre on the plane. “There were 21 men sitting on the plane, two jumped before it flew, yet we only saw 12 bodies in the hospital,” he said. “We didn’t hear from [Mateen], we couldn’t find his body – we went everywhere. The bodies fell in so many areas.”
The official, whose time at the health ministry predates the Taliban, said knowing precisely how many men died falling from the aircraft, and identifying them, became almost impossible in the aftermath of the fall of the government.
“Their bodies were so badly damaged by the fall, it was hard to identify them. There was no government to investigate the incident,” he said. “If you knew the Taliban, then you’d understand why the men did this.”
EU’s new low point on Palestine
As the EU struggles to weigh in on challenging developments in its neighbourhood, the last thing it needs is diverting its focus to wholly misguided priorities. A case in point is the EU’s current preoccupation with Palestinian textbooks, promoted by European commissioner Olivér Várhelyi and Israel-aligned lawmakers in the European Parliament.
The new Israeli government has explicitly vowed to continue building illegal settlements and not to allow the two-state solution, the cornerstone of EU policy on the conflict.
Yet Brussels institutions are devoting more time to an entirely different, peripheral issue: an EU-funded study of Palestinian Authority schoolbooks, published in June by the Georg-Eckert Institute in Germany.
Several committees of the European Parliament are involved in discussing the issue during this month, following closed door meetings of EU-27 diplomats earlier in the summer.
The study was meant to assess allegations that the Palestinian curriculum promotes hatred and violence against Israel. Israel advocates have made such claims for many years, using cherrypicked examples with a heavy dose of spin. Some Western politicians have always taken such assertions at face value instead of treating them critically as a part of Israel’s own nationalist narrative.
Although previous international studies, such as a 2013 study funded by the US government, disproved the sweeping allegations, the EU agreed in 2019 to fund a new study.
But unlike the US-funded study, which compared both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks (and found broadly similar levels of bias on both sides), the EU set out to examine schoolbooks on the Palestinian side only.
This went against the record of the Georg-Eckert Institute, which had hosted bilateral German-French, German-Czech and German-Polish textbook commissions to accommodate conflicting narratives through mutual dialogue – but now agreed to take a unilateral approach.
As Israeli researcher Assaf David commented, “[t]he very notion of examining only Palestinian textbooks with a fine-tooth comb, while completely ignoring their mirror image in Israeli textbooks, is fundamentally tendentious.”
According to US political scientist Nathan Brown, “[t]he analysis is written as if Palestinian textbooks cannot be understood except by relying heavily on how Israelis might view them – but without giving Israeli textbooks the same treatment.”
Despite these flaws, the resulting study once again greatly tempers the allegations. It neither claims nor shows evidence that the Palestinian textbooks incite hatred or violence. It documents debatable trends, such as omissions of Israel from Palestinian maps or positive portrayals of Palestinian armed struggle decades ago – but those mirror similar phenomena in Israeli society and schoolbooks.
Across a review of more than 150 PA textbooks, the study provides two examples characterised as antisemitic – but adds that both of them have been positively altered or removed in latest editions of the books.
Commissioner Várhelyi, in charge of the EU’s neighbourhood, has also sought to play up the issue. Despite the study’s moderate findings, he pledged to step up pressure on the PA to amend the textbooks “in the shortest possible timeframe” on the basis of a “roadmap” with “incentives” and a process of “screening and monitoring”.
The Hungarian Commissioner’s interest in amplifying the issue cannot be seen in isolation from his country’s special alliance with Israel under Viktor Orbán. Over the last years, Hungary blocked almost every EU foreign policy statement critical of Israel.
There is an extra hypocrisy here. Last year, Orbán’s government introduced a controversial new school curriculum in Hungary, which includes compulsory reading of antisemitic authors. Imre Kertész, a world-renowned writer on the Holocaust, was in turn scrapped from the reading list.
This does not seem to concern the MEPs professing outrage about the Palestinian curriculum.
Real problems with Palestinian Authority
Meanwhile, there are real, serious problems with the PA that require EU attention.
Following the cancellation of Palestinian elections scheduled for May, president Mahmoud Abbas is taking the PA down an authoritarian path, suppressing protests, and deepening intra-Palestinian divisions. To make textbooks – rather than these fundamental issues – a central topic in EU-PA relations would be entirely misplaced.
Antisemitism and direct incitement of hatred and violence should be red lines – but the study found hardly any. So what will the EU push to change? Will it ask to tone down emotive depictions of Israeli soldiers shooting at Palestinian children rather than work to end Israel’s occupation? Eleven children have been killed and over 500 injured by Israeli forces only in the West Bank since May. There is a point where textbook “improvements” turn into censorship, deciding for Palestinians what they can say about their history and lived experiences.
The whole idea that Palestinian anger towards Israel is driven by textbooks rather than the daily injustices Palestinians suffer under its occupation shows a lack of basic empathy.
While both sides tend to omit the other from their schoolbook maps, Israel’s expanding settlements are erasing any possibility of a Palestinian state on the ground. This leaves in place open-ended Israeli occupation and ethno-domination over the Palestinians – recently qualified by the Human Rights Watch as meeting the legal definition of apartheid.
Getting the EU bogged down in one-sided textbook revisions is a perfect way to deflect from that chilling development.
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