Awá, ‘Earth’s Most Threatened Tribe’
The Awa tribe in northern Brazil is threatened by the Amazon wildfire that broke out in September Survival International

The survival of as many as 80 members of the indigenous Awa people is threatened by a fire that has ravaged the Brazilian Amazon for nearly two months. The tribal rights group Survival International has said footprints found in the region suggest the Awa are on the run.

The Awa people are "struggling to stay out of the blaze", the group said in a statement. The organisation also claimed that neighbouring tribes independently carried out fire-fighting efforts to protect the Awa people.

Brazil's environment ministry has said the most isolated Awa-inhabited area of Arariboia was unaffected. Firefighters were able to contain the blaze from advancing toward the Awa tribes's land with the support of 60 indigenous people and three ethnic groups, it said.

The fire, which broke out in Arariboia indigenous land in the north-eastern state of Maranhao in September, has destroyed about 220 hectares, authorities at the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources said.

The Awa people are one of the last surviving hunter-gatherers in the Amazon. The tribe is threatened by a number of forces including deforestation, illegal logging and intruders who bring diseases. Up to 25% of the tribe still remain isolated.

Cause of indigenous land fire

Arariboia is home to about 12,000 indigenous people of Guajajara ethnicity and 80 of the Awa tribe. The region has witnessed frequent fires since the start of the year. The authorities say the climate and vegetation of the area makes it vulnerable to new fires.

"With the low humidity and the high temperatures, we keep the alert in the area to prevent further hot spots and continue with the brigades and prevention work," said Gabriel Zacharias, the local fire combat co-ordinator.

Illegal loggers are equally responsible for starting the fires, and firefighting teams have been shot at by loggers, according to Luciano Evaristo, a local director at the ministry of the environment. According to Survival International, illegal loggers could be using the fire as cover for carrying out their activities in the area.