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Sunday, Aug 09, 2020 15:15 [IST]

Last Update: Sunday, Aug 09, 2020 09:46 [IST]

9th August is the International Day of the World's Indigenous People

COVID-19 and indigenous peoples’ resilience

RANJAN K BARUAH
One of the important issues or areas of work for many international organisations including the United Nations is indigenous people. Thought there might be different definition but in simple we can say that ‘indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them.’ There are an estimated 476 million indigenous peoples in the world living across 90 countries. They make up less than 5 percent of the world's population, but account for 15 per cent of the poorest. They speak an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages and represent 5,000 different cultures.
Indigenous peoples are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment. These are the people who are protectors of nature and natural resources in spite of poor financial conditions. Most of their livelihoods are directly related to the environment or nature or natural resources. Indigenous peoples have sought recognition of their identities, their way of life and their right to traditional lands, territories and natural resources for years. But the irony is that their rights have been violated. Indigenous peoples today, are arguably among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of people in the world.
 We are already fighting the pandemic and it brings more challenges for indigenous people around the world. As we fight against the spread of the pandemic, it is more important than ever to safeguard indigenous peoples and their knowledge. Their territories are home to 80% of the world’s biodiversity and they can teach us much about how to rebalance our relationship with nature and reduce the risk of future pandemics.
 In order to raise awareness of the needs of these population groups, by resolution 49/214 of 23 December 1994, the United Nations General Assembly decided that the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples shall be observed on 9 August every year. The date marks the day of the first meeting, in 1982, of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.
AntónioGuterres , Secretary General of the United Nations in his message on the occasion said that “COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on more than 476 million indigenous people around the world. Throughout history, indigenous peoples have been decimated by diseases brought from elsewhere, to which they had no immunity. It is critical for countries to marshal the resources to respond to their needs, honour their contributions and respect their inalienable rights. Prior to the current pandemic, indigenous peoples already faced entrenched inequalities, stigmatization and discrimination. Inadequate access to healthcare, clean water and sanitation increases their vulnerability. “Realizing the rights of indigenous people’s means ensuring their inclusion and participation in COVID-19 response and recovery strategies. Indigenous peoples must be consulted in all efforts to build back stronger and recover better”, he added.
 Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on her message on the occasion said that “COVID-19 is a critical threat to indigenous peoples, at a time when many are also struggling against man-made environmental damage and economic depredation.” “The pandemic hammers home the importance of ensuring that indigenous peoples can exercise their rights to self-government and self-determination. They must also be consulted, and should be able to participate in the formulation and implementation of public policies affecting them, through their representative entities, leaders and traditional authorities”, she added.
There are many international organisations working with the indigenous communities to ensure their human rights. The United Nations and other organisations conduct different programmers to raise the issue and challenges faced by indigenous communities around the world. All governments must ensure their participation in the change process. Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved if any one is left behind. All of us can make a difference and let us participate and ensure that indigenous people around the world get their human rights and contribute towards positive social transformation.
(With direct inputs from UN publication and feedback may be sent to bkranjan@gmail.com)

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi