In Peru, there are 55 indigenous ethnics: 4 living in the Andean Mountain Range and 51 in the Amazon Rainforest. The last census of 2017 established a total population of 2,014,534 these people. They form one of the sectors with the least access to basic services: less than half (48%) have a connection to a drainage system, more than 30% do not have permanent, quality drinking water and 75.4% do not have access to health care.
The indigenous peoples of the Andes of Peru take their own security measures to face the pandemic of Covid-19. They have closed their entrances, reactivated the self-defense committees, and introduces strict supervision of their population. This was a wise move, as the virus has not yet reached its Andean communities and is only present in urban areas. However, government responses and attention to these places are relatively limited and need to be reconsidered.
The situation is different in the Amazon, as indigenous peoples have been infected with the coronavirus. It is a mystery how this infection could have occurred from faraway China to the indigenous Amazon tribes, some of which live partially and some completely isolated from the outside world! It is a big question! Moreover, when we consider that the African continent, which is closer to both China and Europe, has hardly been affected at all!
8 indigenous ethnic groups live in the Cusco region in its Andean and jungle territories, representing 27.8% of the population. Although the most numerous ethnic group are the Quechua, there are seven other ethnics living in the jungle of La Convencion province, spread across 64 communities.
Although Cusco is a major Peruvian tourist destination, local communities prefer to close the access of tourists for fear of Covid-19. For this reason, on 17 March 2020, nine tourists from Poland were prevented from entering the Machiguenga community in the Amazon which belongs to the Cusco region. A similar situation is in the Megantoni province which has closed its borders to foreigners and tourists. In this region, as in other areas where indigenous peoples live, the lack of information in the mother tongue is worrying. As in the Amazon, in Cusco, the threat of the pandemic is exacerbated by limited basic services. The latest census of indigenous communities suggests that 68.3% of the population in La Convencion does not have water in their homes.
According to the Ministry of Culture, eight indigenous tribes live in the region of Cusco which is about 335,000 people. This represents 27% of the region’s population. However, only 48% of the indigenous population has a drainage system and 75% drinking water. When it comes to access to health, 78% have no kind of health insurance.
The situation became critical for these people, who did not have enough resources to stay in the city during the national quarantine. So far, the only attention they have received has been supplying baskets of basic products that the government has ordered to supply low-income families. However, most of the government’s help disappeared… So, there was no supply of basic products, and the indigenous peoples stay abandoned.
The first person from the region where Machu Picchu resides died last week. Willoq is one of the most traditional communities in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The Quechua communities in Ollantaytambo (of the Cusco region) were calling for urgent medical intervention to prevent the spread of Covid-19 cases. Lockdown of cities/towns was protection but also a risk.
A community member said he spent 3 days at home with the dead man! That they called the authorities, but they did not want to go uphill to remove the body. That the deceased was a foreigner – and he emphasized this expression – who arrived in the Willoq village in the Ollantaytambo district on Monday, April 20. The villagers saw him wandering the streets. Some gave him food and beverages. No one knew exactly where he slept the first night, but it was clear that a community member had taken him home the next day. He found him on the street, pale and short of breath. So he decided to take him home and lay him on a bed so he could rest. He thought he was drunk. The stranger who said he had come from another community did not want to have dinner, but he did drink a lot of water.
The next morning, when he went to see him, the stranger was no longer moving. With a broom, he pushed him and he was stiff. Then the villager called the health authorities because he did not know what to do. Doctors arrived hours later, and they took a sample that, 24 hours later, confirmed that the stranger, who came from another community to work on the potato harvest, died from Covid-19. But what worried the villager the most was that the stranger infected more people, especially the family that sheltered him at home. That is why all families were isolated in quarantine. That day, local municipal staff buried the stranger in the heights of Willoq. They dug a deep hole and put him in it.
The man who took him into his house said that the deceased was from Vilcabamba (a historical Inca site and a village some hours behind Machu Picchu), and this was also verified by the Police. He had arrived in Willoq by a fruit truck to assist in the harvest. To get to Willoq from Ollantaytambo, the main town in the area, it took 2 hours on foot or 45 minutes by car. There was a medical station in Willoq run by a German NGO, but it stopped working when the pandemic broke out!
Willoq, one of the original villages in the Urubamba Valley, is home to 250 families. Most of them are engaged in growing products such as potatoes, quinoa, corn, peas or beans, and experimental rural tourism through accommodation for travelers who are interested in learning about their culture, dances, and textiles. The men also work as porters and carry the luggage of trekkers who make the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Many villagers depend vitally on the work of the porters!
The village mayor said that due to a lack of immediate attention from health authorities, they decided to fumigate the village and set up four reservoirs so that residents could wash their hands frequently. But there was a bigger issue, which was exacerbated by isolation: the cessation of agricultural production and thus the lack of food to survive.
According to the portal of the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF), this municipality received 206,330 Peruvian soles (PEN) for the purchase of food baskets. Challco stated that all of them were distributed already, but the accrual did not yet appear in MEF, and officially the level of realization of this money keep being 0%. “They are in the process of uploading the minutes and in all that process,” the spokesperson explained. However, it was urgent for anthropologist Fernando Astete to meet the demands of the inhabitants of the Willoq-Patacancha basin, as these were the original Quechua peoples who kept the Inca traditions alive.
As a tourism company that works with many of these people as Porters and Cooks, we have a program that connects donors with the poorest communities of the Cusco region and provides them with some resources for their development. The program is to provide the community with basic products. For example, food supply for survival, warm clothes, nappies, medicines … It also means giving them information to protect themselves from the coronavirus pandemic.
There is an opportunity for private companies or individuals to contribute to community-based projects. Another option is to donate money to buy the most urgent products. Nevertheless, one does not have to contribute much. In our opinion, every grain counts!