Covid-19 and Amazonia's Future

April 22, 2020

On April 22, Earth Day, the Brazil LAB hosted an online event with a stellar group of scholars and innovators to think about the new coronavirus pandemic and Amazonia’s future. The conversation was moderated by Brazil LAB's Director João Biehl and featured:

Marcia Castro, the Andelot Professor of Demography and Chair of the Department of Global Health and Population at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

Ilona Szabó,  a human rights and international studies scholar and the co-founder and executive-director of Igarapé, a leading think-and-do-tank on security, climate, and development issues in the Global South.

Pedro Vasconcelos, Director of Brazil’s National Institute of Science and Technology for Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers at the Evandro Chagas Institute. Also a Professor of Pathology at the State University of Pará, Vasconcelos studies arboviruses and hantaviruses in the Pan-Amazonian region and has played a key role in our understanding of the transmission of zika.

Beto Veríssimo, a leading environmentalist, is senior researcher at the nonprofit Imazon. A Brazil LAB Affiliate Scholar, Veríssimo is currently overseeing the project Amazônia 2030 that explores conservation and economic leapfrogging initiatives for the region.

The coronavirus pandemic has significantly altered our lifeworlds, revealing the precariousness of our systems of preparedness and public health response, as well as deeply entrenched inequalities that are expressed in vulnerability and disparities of care. Like never before, we are faced with a world of uncertainty, as economies crumble and state capacities are pushed to the limit. While democracies erode, the pandemic has also been dangerously politized by increasingly authoritarian regimes.

As of April 22, there were 2.5 million confirmed covid-19 cases globally. Here in the United States, the epicenter of the pandemic now, deaths mounted to forty-five thousand. Meanwhile, the pandemic has started to peak in Brazil. As of today, the country had forty-three thousand cases and 2,700 deaths reported. The pandemic has been hitting hard in the Amazonian region, which is key to planetary survival.

The Amazon is the world’s largest and most diverse tropical forest and the ancestral home of over one million indigenous peoples. Brazil contains about sixty percent of the rainforest, which is a massive carbon sink undergoing systematic destruction, especially under President Jair Bolsonaro. 

The city of Manaus, for example, is experiencing a total breakdown of public health services at this time. Over three hundred people have already died there. Many at home, many buried in common graves, and many more unaccounted for, as elsewhere in the region, plagued by violence, generalized precarity, and illegality. There are already 34 covid-19 cases among indigenous peoples in rural areas and three deaths. 

The panelists reflected on Amazonia’s plight in this dire moment. They shared insights on the humanitarian crisis unfolding on the ground, on the dangerous politicization of the pandemic, and on how the acceleration of deforestation might lead to the emergence of new diseases. At the end, Castro, Szabó, Vasconcelos, and Veríssimo shared their critical vision of what might be possible in policy, science, and economics to guarantee the survival and sustainable development of this vital region and its peoples.

Live-streamed on the Brazil LAB YouTube channel, this event was co-sponsored by the Princeton Environmental Institute, the Center for Health and Wellbeing, the Program in Latin American Studies, and the Instituto de Estudos para Políticas de Saúde (IEPS).