The United Nations has announced an action plan which it hopes will bring relief to indigenous peoples living in the extreme north-east of Peru where it borders with Colombia and Brazil. The devastating impact of the pandemic over the Amazon region has made an undeniable case for international humanitarian intervention.

The plan targets support on the vast tropical lowlands where the three countries’ worst affected areas meet. At risk are the Amazon’s 400 indigenous groups, a population of 6 million.

In the Triple Frontier area the plan targets indigenous communities and their lack of means of subsistence. These have been overwhelmed by very high rates of mother and child mortality, structural poverty, and the absence of allopathic health care.

The death rates for coronavirus in these areas are multiples of the national averages for each country. Leticia’s rate is around nine times that of Colombia as a whole; Loreto’s is double Peru’s average, and in Brazil’s frontier region indigenous peoples have a 47% higher chance of dying from coronavirus than indigenous peoples elsewhere.

Since well before the pandemic, structural poverty in these frontier areas affected 80% of the population, with the rate of informal employment near 100%. In effect these were the poorest and least served regions of each of the three countries.

Maternal mortality in Leticia for example is six times higher than the national average in Colombia, with similar results in Brazil and Peru’s neighbouring regions. The achievement of food security ranges between 42 and 59% of these populations.

In addition to health, the UN plan covers the following main categories of emergency relief: food security and nutrition; water, sanitation and hygiene; shelter and protection; emergency education; and immediate relief.

Implementation of the plan calls for a high degree of coordination, given that borders in the area are porous and communities of the three countries are often separated only by a road or the Amazon itself. Quarantine regulations are ineffective as they conflict with the population’s dependence on bread-winning activities within the informal economy.

The UN’s main concern is that the pandemic will wipe out the indigenous people’s ancestral knowledge, traditions and way of life. These are vested in the elderly who are at greatest risk of death. Indigenous leaders have proved highly vulnerable owing to their exposure to infection through the constant round of meetings and negotiations they are required to attend both nationally and internationally to press their peoples’ increasingly desperate cause.