How COVID-19 threatens vulnerable indigenous communities in the Amazon Rainforest


I’ve the honour and priviledge of knowing and working with the Shiwiar people of Ecuador for over 10 years when we were working on biodiversity projects in their Amazon territory and I have been one of their voices to the outside world, helping to tell their story of their fight to  defend the Amazon against oil companies by reporting their plight to the world in my books and articles. The Shiwiar have always been open to working with foreigners with the goal to protect the Amazon and wildlife.  From the days of the invasion of Columbus and the Spanish who brought only genocide and suffering, Indigenous native americans of the rain forests are the most vulnerable communities to pandemics and the crisis  we are witnessing now is a big threat to their survival.

This update campaign is coordinated by  Kayla Vandervort who has have been working closely with the Shiwiar over the past year in permaculture and conservation efforts.

On May 24th, this very isolated territory in the Ecuadorian Amazon, confirmed it’s first 7 cases of COVID-19. This goes to show that even the most isolated places in the world are affected by this pandemic. The Nationality Shiwiar of Ecuador (NASHIE) has issued a State of Emergency within the Shiwiar territory of Pastaza, Ecuador with a total of 11 confirmed COVID-19 cases within 5 days.

Now more than ever, the Shiwiar  need your help to raise donations for sanitary products, food aid, and the creation of prevention and care pamphlets on how to manage COVID19, which will be distributed in all 14 communities within the Shiwiar territory.

Complete Isolation in the Amazon Does Not Guarantee Protection from the Spread of the COVID-19 Virus

”Many would think in the deep Ecuadorian Amazon being isolated would be a gaurantee that communities would have a small chance of getting infected by the COVID-19 virus.

The reality is that, without access to knowledge about the virus, without protective equipment, and without essential products, it is a recipe for disaster. The need to venture into the city without protection rises, putting the risk of bringing the COVID-19 virus into the Amazon.’

During the first week of May, without flights available for transportation, two Shiwiar members adventured outside their isolated communities of Bufeo and Kaprina by canoe to arrive to the city of Puyo. Their mission was to buy food and other materials to bring back to their communities. Around May 9th/10th, the two members left the town of Canelos and traveled back by canoe with their goods. Soon after they presented symtoms of COVID-19, and made the radio call to coordinate PCR rapid testing and a humanitarian flight to confirm the possible cases.

On May 24th, the first 7 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed.


The Shiwiar territory is in extreme danger for coming into contact with an extra foreign virus in their communities, facing the lack of access to essential necessities like protective equipment, sanitary products, food, and education about how to be prepared for managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most Shiwiar live isolated from the main Amazonian city of Puyo, where the only form of transportation to arrive to anywhere in the territory is by a small plane.

When the pandemic first stuck in Ecuador, all inter-provincial transportation was completely cut off, leaving Shiwiar leaders trapped in the interior, unable to communicate or organize humanitarian aid for its nation. To top it off, the local government in Pastaza has also not offered or provided any humanitarian aid during the 3 months of strict quarentine.

All activities in their territiory, even though they are isolated, have been suspended. This includes schools which provide education for the children, and current plans to train to be Permaculture specialists, a major driving force with the goal of maintaining a sustainable lifestyle and well-being.

Ecuador is just about to begin its third month of quarentine, with its citizens living with a strict curfew (must be home at 2:00PM until 5:00AM), and transportation limitations since the second week of March. Cases in the province of Pastaza, especially in the amazoniain communities, are just starting to pick up, and fast.

With an economy that was already collapsing, COVID-19 pandemic, thousands unemployed, a drop in oil prices (in a country where it’s economy is dependent on petroleum production), and one of the largest oil spills of the century, Ecuador suffers a recipe for a mega collapse.

As lack of confidence in the Ecuadorian government’s ability to manage itself grows, lack of aid falls short into the populations that need it the most.

Francisco Timias, Director of Territory for NASHIE (Shiwiar Nation of Ecuador), fled to his mother’s territory via Puyo – Macas to protect his family and lower this risk of possible infection in the beginning of March. As the weeks went by, reality hit hard about the severity of the pandemic.

Initially thinking this will pass in a month, now Francisco faces the challenge that this won’t pass anytime soon. He struggles to find transportation to return to the city of Puyo so he can access a radio and call the communities in the interior. A weekly phone call to family and friends, which is made from one tiny spot that has cell phone service in the jungle, helps keep Francisco updated about what is going on.

After two months of limited possibillites to travel, Francisco finally made it to Puyo on May 13th to coordinate aid for the communities in the interior. However, Francisco had his work cut out for him, learning that there has been no effort by the government in providing any type of aid for isolated amazon communities. After two days in the city, for the safety of his family, he returned quickly back to the community via Puyo -Macas 2 hours away in the jungle.

“I’m so hurt, so many of our elders, wise women, wise men, if they die they will leave us with all of their wisdom,” -Veronica Saquilanda, Director of Women of NASHIE

Veronica was the only leader of her nation still in Puyo. She was able to find masks and food rations to distribute to Shiwiar families who currently were trapped in Puyo and Shell with the help of the amazonian indigenous led organization CONFENAIE, and a local campaign called “Dona Desde Casa”.

“CONFENAIE has led the biggest amount of support for the Shiwiar, however they are limited to their resources as they are also providing aid to all other amazonian nationalities in Ecuador. They can’t do it alone, and we need help.” – reported by Kayla Vandervort

Please send donations via the Shiwiar Emergency Go Fund Me Page to help the Shiwiar survive this crisis

Our communities are isolated, have no information of how to deal with this pandemic, no medical centers, no doctors, no nurses, this is so disheartening. And to top it off there is a malaria outbreak affecting many children in the communities.” – Veronica Saquilanda – Director of Women of NASHIE (Shiwiar Nationality of Ecuador)

Any donation big or small will be greatly appreciated, and you can count that every dollar is going straight to all 14 communities in the Shiwiar Territory.

The Shiwiar have protected the Amazon Rainforest and kept one of Ecuador’s lowest deforestation rate of 1.17%. Now we can protect our protectors of the heart of the Amazon.

Donations can be made on the Shiwiar GoFundMe campaign

Press Alianza Napurak

Project  Alianza Minga.

Carlita Shaw

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Related article – Ecuadorian people Unite to fight  Oil Bids


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