UNICEF Bolsters Response to Humanitarian Crisis in Yanomami Territory

31 January 2023

UNICEF is part of the Public Health Emergency efforts in the areas of health, nutrition, water, and sanitation, coordinated by the Brazilian Government, indigenous organizations, and other partners.

A 2019 study showed that more than 80% of the Yanomami children assessed were malnourished.

Brasilia, January 31, 2023 – UNICEF is part of the efforts to combat the severe humanitarian and public health crisis affecting the Yanomami indigenous population. In this initial stage, UNICEF is working alongside the Brazilian government to combat child malnutrition and improve access to clean water and sanitation.

Brazil is currently facing a National Public Health Emergency, as declared by the Ministry of Health on January 20th. This declaration comes in response to the urgent need to address the lack of healthcare access for the people residing in the Yanomami Indigenous Land (TIY), located in the states of Roraima and Amazonas. The Ministry has also established a Situation Room and the Center for Public Health Emergency Operations (COE-Yanomami) as national mechanisms for coordinated response management, overseen by the Indigenous Health Secretariat (Sesai).

UNICEF is coordinating its efforts in the areas of health, nutrition, water, sanitation, and child protection in collaboration with government counterparts. These actions are being carried out in collaboration with Sesai and the Special Indigenous Health Districts (DSEIs), with the aim of supporting the emergency response led by the Brazilian Federal Government in providing assistance to children, adolescents, and pregnant women. Since 2018, UNICEF has maintained a field office in Boa Vista and, in the past year, initiated a support program for the Yanomami people.

"UNICEF has extensive experience in providing health and nutrition support in humanitarian crises, as well as global expertise in water and sanitation – two areas that go hand in hand in addressing the humanitarian crisis in the Yanomami Territory. Nutrition is the foundation for children's survival and reaching their full potential. Beyond this immediate support, we are in dialogue with the Brazilian government, indigenous organizations, and other partners for the short, medium, and long-term response," says UNICEF's Representative in Brazil, Youssouf Ould Abdel-Jelil.

Among the options being discussed and agreed upon with the Brazilian government and other partners are the support to improve access to water, sanitation, and hygiene in indigenous basic health units, particularly in communities with lower coverage and a high rate of acute diarrheal diseases (ADD) and malnutrition. Additionally, UNICEF is considering purchasing and distributing anthropometric measurement equipment to support nutrition care and assisting in the implementation of nutritional assessments in children. UNICEF, in partnership with indigenous organizations, is also considering the establishment of child-friendly spaces to provide psychosocial support to children and adolescents.

Working with the Yanomami

In 2022, UNICEF signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Yanomami Special Indigenous Health District (DSEI) for the implementation of water supply infrastructure and improved access to toilets and sinks in Indigenous Basic Health Units (UBSI) in the Yanomami Territory. Thirteen units and twenty-two communities benefited from potable water systems. Also last year, UNICEF launched a project with the Yanomami population focusing on emergency preparedness and the establishment of a warning system in the indigenous land. Both initiatives are funded by the European Union through the Department of Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (Echo).

Malnutrition Among Yanomami Children

In 2019, UNICEF released the findings of a Study on the Social Determinants of Malnutrition in Indigenous Children Under Five Years of Age in eight villages within the Yanomami Special Indigenous Health District (DSEI). The study revealed a concerning malnutrition situation, with eight out of ten children under five years of age suffering from chronic malnutrition.

The study focused on the Yanomami Special Indigenous Health District (DSEI) and was conducted in the villages of the Auaris Base and the Maturacá Base in Roraima and Amazonas. The data showed that 81.2% of children under five years surveyed had low height for their age (chronic malnutrition), 48.5% had low weight for their age (acute malnutrition), and 67.8% were anemic.

The child's age was found to be significant in analyzing malnutrition. The survey showed a sharp increase in malnutrition rates during the child's weaning period and the introduction of complementary feeding.

The research was funded and requested by UNICEF and implemented in partnership with Fiocruz, the Special Indigenous Health Secretariat (Sesai), the Coordination-General for Food and Nutrition (Cgan) of the Ministry of Health, and the National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples (Funai).

Media contacts

Marco Prates
Communication/SBC in Emergencies
UNICEF Brazil
Tel: (61) 99695 0123
Pedro Ivo Alcantara
Communication Specialist
UNICEF Brazil
Tel: (61) 98166 1636

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