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Former Brazilian ministers seek Europe’s help with COVID crisis

9 ex-environment ministers send letter to French, German and Norwegian leaders

Gabriel Toueg   | 28.01.2021
Former Brazilian ministers seek Europe’s help with COVID crisis ( Fabio Teixeira - Anadolu Agency )

SAO PAULO, Brazil

A group of former environmental ministers in Brazil sent European leaders a letter Wednesday asking for help in coping with a coronavirus crisis in the country’s Amazon region. 

The letter, signed by nine former ministers from previous administrations dating back to 1992, was addressed to French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

“The Brazilian Amazon is currently being devastated by a dual public environmental and health disaster that requires the urgent solidarity and collaboration of friendly countries interested in a genuine and disinterested solution to the problems of the Amazon,” they wrote.

The state of Amazonas recorded its highest COVID-19 death rate Tuesday at 192, which also led to a record in its moving death average. Last week, 139 people died daily on average in the state. At the peak of the Amazon’s first wave last May, the average was below 70 deaths.

Rubens Ricupero, one of the signatories of the letter, told Anadolu Agency the initiative came after the group received requests from local communities.

“Their argument is that in the state’s interior, the situation is even worse than in [the capital] Manaus, but nobody pays attention. Their impression is of abandonment!” he said. “It was a humanitarian idea. They are being forgotten.”

Ricupero said neither the state nor the federal governments are doing enough. He criticized the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro for “neither doing enough nor letting others help.”

Ricupero was environment minister between 1993 and 1994 under former President Itamar Franco.

“Back in my day, it was called ‘Minister of Environment and of Legal Amazon,’” he said.

Ricupero and the other ministers cited what they called an “unprecedented increase in deforestation and forest fires” that occurred in 2020 in the Amazon, with “figures not seen for a decade.”

Deforestation alerts in the Amazon during the first two years under Bolsonaro were 82% higher than the average recorded in the previous three years.

According to the signatories, who say forest fires are “criminal,” the incidents have “greatly aggravated respiratory problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing to the high rate of deaths in the Amazon [region].”

They said that at the beginning of 2021, a collapse of the health system started in Manaus and emphasized that the situation is spreading “rapidly” to the interior of Amazonas state, threatening other states in the region.

“A particularly cruel feature of the current collapse lies is the absence of oxygen, which has been causing the atrocious death by asphyxiation of hundreds of people, sometimes annihilating entire families,” they wrote.

They said that being familiar with the reality in the Amazon, “they know from experience that neither the federal government nor local governments have all necessary means to help the most fragile and vulnerable populations in the region.”

“Even though we are not in the health field, we are former ministers of the environment. We are looking after these populations, which are the most committed guardians of the environment. They avoid devastation because they depend on the forest,” Ricupero told the Turkish news agency. “If these populations are devastated, we will no longer have anyone to protect the Amazon.”

The former administrators asked European countries for oxygen cylinders and oxygen concentrators, medical oxygen production plants, equipment for installing ICUs, stretchers, oximeters and medicine used in COVID-19 treatment, among other things.

“An effective gesture of solidarity in this dramatic moment will never be forgotten by Brazilians,” they said.

“We also ask you to act, along with other developed countries’ governments, as a facilitator of this urgent request for help from the needy people of our forests who are so hard hit by the pandemic,” the letter said.

In response to a request from Anadolu Agency, health officials in Amazonas said they were thankful for the initiative and highlighted that “all support in this moment of public health emergency of international importance is extremely important for Amazonas, a state that concentrates the largest portion of the still preserved Amazon forest.”

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