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EMERGENCY AID FOR XAVANTE VILLAGES AFFECTED BY FIRES

Xavante Warã Association has received support from CESE’s emergency campaign

By Amanda Marqui and Luana Almeida

According to data from the National Institute of Space Research (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais: INPE), between January and December last year, almost 200 thousand outbreaks of fire were recorded in the country.  Mato Grosso came top of the list with more than 31 thousand outbreaks over the period, followed by the states of Pará, Maranhão and Tocantins.  The numbers represent an increase of more than 50% compared to the previous year (2018).

In August and September 2019, the Xavante Indigenous Lands (IL) in Mato Grosso suffered a record number of fires. Xavante leaders believe that the fires that destroyed entire villages and farms were the result of illegal activity in a number of cases.  In September last year, kinfolk informed the Xavante Warã Association of cases of fires in the Areões, São Marcos and Parabubure ILs. There are frequent fires in the Cerrado’s dry season, however, they believe that some were the result of activities encouraged by the government to expand agribusiness by destroying vegetation in the Cerrado and the Amazon.  According to research from the INPE’s Fire Programme, 20% of fires in indigenous lands in the state of Mato Grosso affected the Xavante people.  From August to October 2019, the number of fires totalled more than one thousand; the Areões IL was the most affected, with 287 outbreaks.  It is estimated that approximately two thousand people from the Xavante people were directly affected by these fires.  Reports from kinfolk state that, in some cases, entire villages and farms were burnt to the ground.

The Xavante people’s IL are located in the eastern part of the state of Mato Grosso.  These are islands of Cerrado vegetation surrounded by agribusiness dedicated to soy, sorghum and cotton production.  The current government’s position and constant threats to the environment and human rights have drastically altered the social and political context of the indigenous peoples of Brazil.  The Xavante people’s situation is concerning, which is why support to guarantee their rights and territories is so essential.

In September 2019, the Xavante Warã Indigenous Association estimates that about 1,500 indigenous people’s health, existence and ways of life were affected by the fires: Areões IL – 500 people (approximately 100 families); São Marcos IL – 300 people (30 families) and Parabubure IL –  1000 people (approximately 100 families). “There’s a lack of food, housing, a lack of everything in the home.  They burned so many Cerrado animals, plants and medicinal herbs.  We’ve lost continuity in our cultural practices of hunting and collecting fruit”, Hiparidi Toptiro, council member of the Xavante Warã Association says regretfully.

The effects of the criminal fires were not temporary. “We lost the seeds we were keeping for 2020,” adds Hiparidi, who personally embodies another problem that plagues the Xavante: in July, he went into isolation because he was infected with the COVID-19 virus.

According to Hiparidi, this is a moment for his people to get organized again and the emergency aid that resulted from the partnership between CESE and HEKS/EPER played an important role in strengthening this process. The project goals were: food security for families affected by the fire through the purchase of food and water; and the reconfiguration of food systems by swapping seeds, seedlings, work equipment and tools through exchange in the Xavante IL. “We had to ask for help so we could reorganize and fight this fire.  First, we’re going to reconstruct the houses and then the farm,” adds Hiparidi, looking forward to the reconfiguration of the Xavante’s territory and its good living.

Given the gravity of the situation, the Xavante Warã Association requested emergency humanitarian aid for activities in the Xavante communities affected by the fires last year. The activities were supported by CESE in partnership with HEKS/EPER, in order to guarantee the families’ food security through the purchase of food and water.

About the Xavante Warã Association (Associação Xavante Warã: AXW)

The Xavante Warã Association is a non-profit indigenous organization. Over the last twenty years it has developed projects to promote the self-sufficiency and sustainability of the Xavante people. Projects focus extensively on the preservation and conservation of the Cerrado, the preservation of knowledge and understanding this biome.