Deforestation is a clear threat to many ecosystems worldwide. This is perhaps most evident in the Amazon rainforest, whose rich biodiversity is being threatened by illegal loggers. While the loss of plant and animal species should already be enough to worry and in some cases even enrage us, but there is far more to the deforestation of the amazon than this.
Last week, it was reported that an indigenous tribe in the heart of the rainforest, on the border between Brazil and Peru, had made its first contact with a settled tribe for the first time. Reportedly, this was done in an attempt to flee the devastation caused by illegal loggers. This contact with a previously remote and untouched people may appear exciting, but this is far from the truth. Instead of being given the time to engage with the outside world, or the complete privacy which would come with not taking this route at all, these people were forced to move by the very entity they would have otherwise been happy to avoid: modern society.
This event shows just how widespread an impact the Amazon’s deforestation can have, already impacting people and their way of life. However, the dangers of this event go far beyond a community’s displacement alone. As one prominent science blog pointed out, while the settled Asháninka tribe this new tribe came into contact with have been kind and helpful, they may still pose another threat. When missionaries made contact with the Zo’é tribe in the 1980s, diseases common to us were a deadly threat to the newly-contacted tribe. Now there is fear that this may also happen with this unnamed people.
Brazilian officials have warned that “something serious must have happened,” as it is not normal for an uncontacted group of natives to approach others in this way. This may, however, be just the beginning of a future trend. While it may seem like a small event to us, the movement of this tribe and the threats they face, whether from others living in the area or from the diseases we see as common, is indicative of the reality of the displacement of people due to environmental change.
Though the term “environmental refugee” is not often used, with it sometimes being claimed that those moving due to environmental conditions are not classed as refugees, the reality is that the illegal logging which led to the movement of this one Amazon tribe may be only the beginning of a larger and far more disastrous trend. From rising sea levels flooding coastal areas and small island nations to droughts leaving areas uninhabitable, climate change knows no national or social borders and, should it continue, neither shall those affected by it. The fact that we as a modern society have affected native tribes living deep in the Amazon with our actions should serve not only as a somber reminder of how these impact other lives, but also as a wake up call to the real danger which all people face. If we truly want to help, there is a need for more to be done, as helping these displaced tribes is only treating one of the initial symptoms of a far greater disease.
Author: Bernie Esteves, EDN Intern