Coronavirus in ‘the lungs of the world’

Plant your Future
Plant your Future
Emergency food parcels needed for Peru's jungle city hit by Covid-19.

The families that we work with already live on or below the poverty line, so they have limited reserves to cope with the economic consequences of this crisis. 

The remote city of Iquitos in the Amazon Rainforest has been overwhelmed by coronavirus as the bodies of victims pile up on the floor of the mortuary.

People are dying from lack of oxygen in a place dubbed ‘the lungs of the world’

Environmental and community development charity,​ ​Plant Your Future​, works in the region to alleviate poverty and restore the rainforest. They have launched an​ ​Covid-19 Emergency Appeal​ to help families who cannot get food or basic medical supplies.


Jenny Henman, founder of Plant Your Future, said: “Iquitos is home to half a million people and communities are now living the nightmare that we all fear - that coronavirus will completely overwhelm our healthcare and social support system, leaving us with no medical care, no money and no food.”

Peru enforced a military-led lockdown at the outbreak of Covid-19. Despite the early measures, the virus has spread rapidly.

In Iquitos, the virus has been able to thrive due to the local conditions; the city’s slum neighbourhood of Belen consists of over-crowded homes with parents, grandparents and children living in close quarters forced to share mattresses in hot and tightly packed rooms.

With no access to running water, washing hands regularly isn’t an option. As a result, the two hospitals of Iquitos are overwhelmed, meaning there is nowhere to care for any more patients.

Henman said: “​The city’s health system is unable to cope. It's totally swamped by the number of ill patients arriving and lack of medical supplies. Hospital corridors are full of dying or dead patients and oxygen has run out. Sick people are being turned away as hospitals simply don’t have the space, means or capacity to treat them. Without oxygen, let alone ventilators, saving lives becomes impossible.”


Iquitos is the regional capital of Loreto, and normally serves as an important centre for thousands of rural communities to trade produce and stock up on supplies.

Official figures report that 1,187 people have died from the virus in the region – almost half the nation's death toll from Covid-19.

The regional health director, Dr Carlos Calampa, believes that the true figure is actually much higher. The lockdown means that families have to stay at home and are unable to pay for food or generate an income through trading. The Peruvian Government does not have the systems or resources in place to deliver food aid – least of all to rural areas.

Sergio Lopez, Plant Your Future field coordinator, said: “​For the rural people in Loreto, no support has arrived from government nor from the Regional or Municipal authorities, least of all Central Government. 

"It's a very worrying time; the quarantine has been extended but the problems continue. On behalf of the rural people of Loreto, I am requesting solidarity and support - they really need it during the critical time that we’re living through.”

The Plant Your Future team has been working to supply emergency food parcels and basic medical supplies to communities in Loreto. They've now launched an Emergency Appeal to raise funds to continue this work, asking the public to donate what they can to help keep families safe, making it possible for them to stay at home.


Henman concluded: “​The families that we work with already live on or below the poverty line, so they have limited reserves to cope with the economic consequences of this crisis. They are extremely vulnerable.

"We have been working in Peru for over a decade to help establish robust, long-term solutions that will help build up the resilience of local communities. But right now, we need to ensure the people of Loreto can continue to fight.”

This Author 

Marianne Brooker is The Ecologist's content editor. This article is based on a press release from Plant Your Future. 

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