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News > Bolivia

Bolivian Indigenous People Join Efforts to Recover From Fires

  • Bolivian soldiers trying to address the fires in the region of San José de Chiquitos (Bolivia) on August 29, 2019.

    Bolivian soldiers trying to address the fires in the region of San José de Chiquitos (Bolivia) on August 29, 2019. | Photo: EFE

Published 13 September 2019

The fires in the Chiquitania region, a transitional area between the Chaco and Amazonia, have affected more than two million hectares in the southeastern province of Santa Cruz in Bolivia.

In Bolivia’s Chiquitania region, where Indigenous communities and Campesinos make their living from the region's tourism​ have paid a heavy price from the Amazon's fires, yet they are not resigning themselves to the loss of their livelihoods.

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The community of El Carmen, one of the first to suffer the fires that beset Bolivia a month ago, lives from ecotourism and is trying to recover from the disaster that destroyed – at least temporarily – a large portion of its natural wealth.

The fire surprised local residents on Aug. 6, Bolivia’s Independence Day, just as they were holding a small parade at the town’s school, a celebration they had to halt to manage the emergency.

“We don’t know how (it happened) because this fire came from far away,” local leader Javier Mencari told EFE surrounded by an area of ashes and stubble left by the aggressive flames where orchids once bloomed.

The plants are known to grow on the stones in this hilly area and they need only a little bit of soil in the crevices of the bounders to put down their roots, transforming the area into a visual wonderland.

“We lost about 14 species in this garden,” Mencari said, emphasizing the efforts of the community to restore the site.

Also growing in the area are several dozen hectares of the copaiba tree, from which an oil is extracted in order to treat colds and joint pain.

The copaiba oil “sustains” the community and is collected by local residents once a month and sold for a good price at a nearby market, he said.

In the village, school’s students are usually spotted in their typical outfits, the women wearing their “tipoys” – a type of white, decorated tunic – and the men in their sleeveless shirts adorned in typical Chiquitania style.

The aim is to “reassert Chiquitania identity” by means of their traditional dress, teacher Maribel Sanchez told EFE.

The woman, along with her students, has taken over organizing trips along the path to the orchids and that has led to many people cooperating in helping restore the site.

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