The COVID-19 pandemic is a pressure point for the world’s vulnerable peoples. As we all retreat into our homes, their struggles become more invisible. InsightShare Network’s new series amplifying Indigenous voices on COVID-19 uses media to bring into focus stories on the crisis from 10 different countries. By Grace Hutchison.
The unequal COVID-19 crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing global tragedy, revealing the flaws in our system that brought us to this point. The novel coronavirus was spread to humans from animals: a warning shot of more to come as the loss of biodiversity and habitat increases. Social and health inequality are also brought to the forefront, as the poor and vulnerable become more at risk to infection and death.
Of this there are some stark examples: the half-a-million people, living in the Dharavi slum of Mumbai, are spread across just 2.5 sq km of land. Here, where social distancing is impossible and contagion spreads like wildfire, COVID-19 has flared up. The situation is the same for refugees living in dangerously overcrowded camps. Moria, a camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, is infamous for it’s living conditions: 20,000 people inhabit a space built for 3,000; up to 160 people use the same toilet; 325 people share one tap with no soap. An outbreak in Moria would devastate an already vulnerable population. Elsewhere, in Chicago, reports tell us that 70% of the people killed by coronavirus are black people, although black people make up only 29% of the city’s population, revealing racial gaps in health outcomes.
COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate, but our failing political system does and it makes black, brown, old, disabled and poor people more vulnerable. This is particularly true of Indigenous Peoples, who are among the most marginalised in our global society.
Why are Indigenous Peoples at risk?
Colonial history paints a bleak picture of disease in Indigenous communities: colonisers exposed tribes with no built-up immunity to foreign viruses and devastated them. The echoes of this past still reverberate in contemporary health infrastructure. Indigenous communities are not provided with adequate health services or information, and can lack access to basic resources, like clean water and soap.
Furthermore, there are no culturally appropriate prevention or control strategies. Communal living is a feature of many Indigenous societies. This means intergenerational households, shared resources and collective action. In the context of COVID-19, this means putting elders at risk, extended families facing food insecurity and loss of livelihood.
On the shores of Lake Turkana, Kenya, the traditional fishing practices of the El Molo have long been disrupted due to imported fishing technologies and climate change. In the last year, drought has killed cattle and depleted fish populations and locusts have ravaged their vegetation. The Kenyan government’s call to ‘stay at home’ could cause major food insecurity for the community, halting fishing altogether. In Tanzania, the closure of livestock markets are already causing hunger in Maasai pastoralist communities.
Larger mosquito populations in Lake Turkana has increased cases of malaria, while in Mbarali District in Tanzania’s Mbeya Region flooding and unprecedented thunderstorms in the last few weeks have destroyed many homes, pushing people into community buildings. These conditions make Indigenous communities across Kenya and Tanzania more vulnerable.
Yet Indigenous communities are resilient and are self-mobilising. Our Naga partners have used Participatory Video in Khezha, their local language, to share information on COVID-19: what it is and how its spread can be prevented.
Community mobilisation and care are just some of the things that we can learn from Indigenous communities at this time. While we tussle with the tension between individualism and community support, Indigenous lifeways tend to honour the collective. While we hear that ‘coronavirus only kills the sick and old’, Indigenous communities protect their precious elders.
This pandemic has laid bare our broken system and reveals better ways. So, over the coming months we will be sharing photo essays and videos created by our Indigenous Associates, offering Indigenous insights into the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe that it is grassroot voices who will lead us in change, by identifying our societal fault lines and envisaging lifeways of the future. Drawing on our global network of Associates, this InsightShare series will explore the struggles Indigenous communities face and the solutions they offer.
Find out more about how our network of Indigenous hubs are responding to the crisis here: COVID-19: Indigenous Insights.