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Indigenous people have 20 years less life expectancy: UN

RIO DE JANEIRO — Indigenous people have up to 20 years less life expectancy than non-indigenous people in their countries, a UN report released Thursday said.

Poverty, malnutrition and various infectious diseases conspire to cut their lives shorter, said the report, which was released simultaneously in several countries with significant indigenous populations, including Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, South Africa and the United States.

Australia's Aborigines and Nepal's ethnic Kirat descendants fared worst when their lifespans were compared to those of non-indigenous folk, dying 20 years earlier on average than their better-off compatriots.

Canada's First Nations, Inuit and Metis lived 17 years less, while Guatemala's Amerindians had spans shorter by 13 years, and New Zealand's Maoris died 11 years younger than non-indigenous citizens.

"This report reveals several alarming data about indigenous populations," the head of the UN information center in Brazil, Giancarlo Summa, told a news conference in Rio de Janeiro.

It notably highlighted the gaps that remained in the economic, social and cultural rights of indigenous populations, he said.

The UN report stated that indigenous populations were comprised of around 370 million people around the world, in 90 countries -- roughly five percent of the world's inhabitants.

Indigenous people make up more than a third of the 900 million people living in extreme poverty in rural zones, it noted.

Marcos Terena, a Brazilian Indian rights campaigner of indigenous Terena descent, said: "Indians live in poverty, illiteracy, excluded from economic and political power. In some countries, they're not even recognized by the government."

He said that, in Brazil, "the Indian was not poor when the Portuguese arrived (in 1500), but became poor through colonization."

The UN report denounced the violence often suffered by indigenous people, as well as politics of assimilation, the expropriation of traditional lands, forced evictions, and the "alarming" sanitary conditions they live in.

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