Brazil - Roraima fires and drought

(In support of ACT Appeal #LABR81 for $374,379)
May 22, 1998

SITUATION: The northern Brazilian state of Roraima, located along the border of Venezuela and the Republic of Guyana, is facing a crisis due to an El Nino-related drought and subsequent fires which have destroyed more than 21 percent of cultivated land.

This is exacerbating problems for indigenous communities in Roraima. Not only is drought a problem, but as pasture land has dried up, water has become stagnant, resulting in greater numbers of mosquitos that transmit malaria. Both malaria and dengue fever have seriously affected many communities -- in some villages, 80 percent of the population has contracted malaria. The impact on the indigenous Yanomami people has been particularly heavy.

In spite of this, Indians and small farmers have continued to cultivate their fields in the hope that rain will fall at the right time. Burning small areas to prepare fields for planting is the traditional practice in the region; however, drought conditions have aggravated fires, which have spread out of control after four months of burning. There are indications that the major fires were set by large landowners seeking amnesty on agricultural credit they had obtained from local banks. Authorities are investigating those allegations, and the fires have now received national and international attention, including a fact-finding mission by a United Nations commission.

One estimate says that nearly 22 percent of Roraima's cultivated land -- roughly 4 percent of the state's total land area -- has been affected by the fire. Damage is estimated at $40 million. The fires alone have affected 1,114 families, or 6,840 people. But the combined drought and fires have affected some 182 indigenous communities in the state, with the Yanomami being particularly hardest-hit. In all, it is estimated that of the total 38,600 Indians in the state of Roraima, 29,488 have been affected by the drought and fire. Nearly 20 percent of these are without water and food, and there are serious cases of respiratory disease caused by inhaling smoke from the fire.

The effect on human life has been considerable -- with an undetermined number of deaths and numerous villages being abandoned.

RESPONSE: ACT member Coordenadoria Ecumnica de Servico (CESE- Ecumenical Service Coordination) has appealed to the ACT network for support to provide short-term assistance in the Roraima region, including relief food, agricultural seeds and the repair or development of drinking water sources.

The Ecumenical Service Coordination (CESE), established in 1973, is a Brazilian ecumenical agency of five Protestant churches -- Anglican Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Independent Presbyterian and United Presbyterian -- and the Roman Catholic Church. CESE works throughout Brazil, with special focus on northeast and northern Brazil and has advocated for human rights on behalf of indigenous peoples, Afro-Brazilians, women and children. CESE generally acts by coordinating work by churches, community groups and other non-governmental organizations. Through its Small Projects Fund, it issues project grants.

Working with CESE has been the Conselho Indigena de Roraima - CIR (Indigenous Council of Roraima), an NGO which defends the rights of indigenous peoples. CESE has worked with CIR by supporting small and specific projects.

APPEAL SPECIFICS: The goal of this appeal is to provide short-term emergency relief to particularly vulnerable communities in the Roraima region which have been affected by the recent fires and drought, especially those in indigenous groups. Assistance will include supplemental relief food, drinking water wells and systems and medicines. Food staples to the Yanomami will consist of items that are part of the community's traditional diet and will be provided to those being treated for malaria. Each family will receive assistance in proportion to the number of members.

In all, the appeal calls for distributing 11,693 packages of food staples to 3,524 families in 182 communities; distribute 720 packages of food staples appropriate to the culture of the Yanomami, who are the most weakened and affected by malaria and unable to provide their own food; and to distribute cassava cuttings and bean, squash, rice and maize seeds to the Macuxi, Wapixana, Ingaric and Taurepang Indians.

The proposal also provides for building 22 artesian wells and install 22 water tanks in 21 indigenous communities. In addition, it seeks to have health workers visit affected areas and distribute medical equipment and deliver malaria medicine.


This project is an emergency five-month plan. Most of the implementation by CESE-CIR in Roraima will occur during a three-month period, with an additional two months for project assessment, set-up and reporting, closeout and evaluation matters.


The total cost of the program is $1,633,379 but because of assistance from project donors, including Oxfam and Caritas Brasila, a total of $1,359,000 has been donated or pledged. The ACT Network is being asked for the remaining $374,379. Christian Aid has already donated $100,000, so the resulting amount being sought from the ACT network is $274,379.

The breakdown in costs being sought for the ACT network are:

Food and seed distribution, tools, wells, water systems/reservoirs, health: $315,545
Material transport: $22,463
Administration and support costs: $36,371
(Christian Aid donation: $100,000)

HOW TO HELP: CWS is supporting this appeal and will channel funds to ACT. Please send contributions to CWS/ERO in New York and designate to CWS/ACT Appeal Brazil - Roraima Fires and Drought (#976309). Those wanting a complete copy of the ACT appeal should contact the CWS Emergency Response Office. Or visit the ACT website:

Call the CWS HOTLINE for updates: (800) 456-1310.

For further information about disasters to which Church World Service is responding, contact CWS Emergency Response.

Telephone: (212) 870-3151
After-hours emergency pager: (800) 780-0853

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