Indigenous Peoples are culturally distinct societies and communities. The land on which they live and the natural resources on which they depend are inextricably linked to their identities, cultures, livelihoods, as well as their physical and spiritual well-being.
There are approximately 476 million Indigenous Peoples worldwide, in over 90 countries. Although they make up over 6 percent of the global population, they account for about 15 percent of the extreme poor. Indigenous Peoples’ life expectancy is up to 20 years lower than the life expectancy of non-indigenous people worldwide.
Indigenous Peoples often face impediments to their access to natural resources, basic services, the formal economy, and justice, as well as their participation in decision making. This legacy of inequality and exclusion has made indigenous communities more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and natural hazards, including to disease outbreaks such as COVID-19. Vulnerabilities to the pandemic are exacerbated with the lack of access to national health systems, food insecurity due to shutting down of markets, and mobility restrictions.
Indigenous Peoples in voluntary isolation or extremely remote areas, such as the Amazon are at very high risk to the novel coronavirus, as pathogens have historically been one of the most powerful factors in decimating Indigenous Peoples. Many indigenous communities have traditional practices of lockdowns and isolation to protect themselves from diseases, and these need to be respected.
While Indigenous Peoples own, occupy, or use a quarter of the world’s surface area, they safeguard 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity. They hold vital ancestral knowledge and expertise on how to adapt, mitigate, and reduce climate and disaster risks. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an opportunity to work through the traditional authorities of Indigenous Peoples to provide accurate information on disease prevention, distribute protective gear and hygiene supplies, and support livelihoods and recovery in ways that are appropriate to Indigenous People’s needs and cultures.
Much of the land occupied by Indigenous Peoples is under indigenous customary ownership, and yet many governments recognize only a fraction of this land as formally or legally belonging to Indigenous Peoples. Insecure land tenure is a driver of conflict, environmental degradation, and weak economic and social development. This threatens cultural survival and vital knowledge systems – both of which contribute to ecological integrity, biodiversity and environmental health upon which we all depend.
Improving security of land tenure, strengthening governance, and supporting indigenous systems for resilience and livelihoods are critical to reduce the multidimensional aspects of poverty they face while contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The World Bank works with Indigenous Peoples to enhance all of these areas while working with governments to ensure that broader development programs reflect the voices and aspirations of Indigenous Peoples.
Over the last 20 years, Indigenous Peoples’ rights have been increasingly recognized through the adoption of international instruments and mechanisms, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007, the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2016, 23 ratifications of the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention from 1991, the establishment of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNSR).
Last Updated: Sep 24, 2019