How COVID-19 Has Impacted Hunger In BrazilBrazil, among other countries, has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, suffering one of the highest death tolls in the world at 556,834 people as of August 2021. However, its infection rates are decreasing. The country had 247,830 confirmed cases as of the week of July 26 and more than 133,000,000 vaccine doses administered as of August: a marked improvement from earlier on in the pandemic. Nonetheless, one still-worsening effect of the pandemic in Brazil is hunger.

Hunger in Brazil

Hunger existed in Brazil long before COVID-19 reached the South American nation, where inequality has fueled high rates of poverty and food insecurity. In 2011, despite a relatively high GDP of $10,900 per capita, roughly 16 million Brazilians lived in extreme poverty, and many lacked the income to support an adequate diet.

However, the U.N. World Food Programme’s 2020 Hunger Map, which displays data from 2017-2019, showed positive progress in Brazil. Less than 2.5% of the total population was undernourished, a rate among the lowest in the world.

COVID-19 Worsens Hunger in Brazil

While the U.N. statistics demonstrate positive trends, COVID-19 has exacerbated food insecurity by widening preexisting inequalities in Brazil’s population. For example, the pandemic caused prices of basic food products to increase. Cooking oils, rice and other diet essentials became so expensive that they were essentially impossible to purchase for many families in Brazil. The New York Times pointed out that as of April 2021, a kilogram of rice sold for twice as much as before the pandemic, and cooking oil tripled in price in the same period.

High unemployment rates caused by the pandemic combined with high food prices further increased the rates of hunger. In an interview with Reuters, unemployed worker Rosana de Paula describes the situation among the unemployed. Because of a lack of credit and little to no savings, the sudden disappearance of income from pandemic-related unemployment is devastating, leaving “no way to pay for food,” according to de Paula.

Now, more than a year into the pandemic and with hunger continually worsening in Brazil, the country is back in the “yellow zone” on the U.N.’s Hunger Map. In an interview with The New Humanitarian, the Director of the Center of Excellence Against Hunger said increasing hunger has raised the alarm in Brazil. More than 19 million people, or 9% of the population, are currently food insecure.

Ways the World is Helping Brazil

Despite the hardships the pandemic has created for many Brazilian families, NGOs and other grassroots campaigns have stepped in to alleviate the hunger crisis. Food campaigns across the country have offered support and resources, distributing meals to millions of Brazilian families. Anyone worldwide can donate to these anti-hunger campaigns to help curb the high demand for food and other necessities that the pandemic has exacerbated.

Rebecca Fontana
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Sao Paulo
Under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil has experienced devastating economic and human loss in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. From his initial downplaying of the seriousness of the novel coronavirus and spreading of misinformation about treatments, Bolsonaro has now taken on an apathetic role in the crisis. His attitude persists in the midst of the country’s highest daily death toll counts and hospitalization rates. The failure of Bolsonaro’s government to lead the charge in Brazil’s COVID-19 response has created an urgent need for communities to step in. Community action is necessary to help deal with the growing homelessness in São Paulo and other major cities. Furthermore, many in Brazil’s middle class are at risk of falling into poverty due to COVID-19’s long-term effects on the economy. This includes layoffs, a lack of jobs and a lack of financial support from the government.

Rise in Homelessness

São Paulo, the largest city in Latin America, was already struggling with high rates of homelessness prior to COVID-19. In the four years leading up to the pandemic, São Paulo’s homeless population increased by 65%, totaling an estimated 24,000 people. Aid workers believe the true number is likely much higher. Many of the newly homeless during the pandemic were already living day-to-day in crowded favelas, while some previously had employment in middle-class jobs, such as teachers.

The protracted issue of homelessness in São Paulo has created much frustration. Violence has occurred as police have recently attempted to disperse large homeless settlements notorious for open-air drug use in central neighborhoods of the city. Wealthy citizens increasingly isolate themselves from issues of poverty in São Paulo. Meanwhile, the middle classes face increasing economic instability and coexisting with a growing homeless population.

Community Approaches

Community action has been a lifeline for São Paulo’s homeless population before and during the pandemic. Two common approaches local NGOs and community leaders are advocating for are Universal Basic Income (UBI) and housing. A law guaranteeing UBI in Brazil underwent signature during the presidency of Lula da Silva several years ago, but to date, the country has not put it into action.

The Gaspar Garcia Center of Human Rights

The Gaspar Garcia Center of Human Rights advocates for the right to decent housing in São Paulo. The center provides legal guidance for citizens in precarious living situations. It also has programs for job training to work in the formal sector. One program the center has created is a recycling collective, which has employed 150 formerly-homeless Brazilians. The center also raises awareness for the rights of informal workers and provides legal guidance.

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church has had a long-standing presence in the homeless communities of São Paulo. Father Júlio Lancellotti of the São Miguel Arcanjo parish has garnered media attention during the pandemic for distributing meals and hygiene products to over 400 homeless citizens on a daily basis. For his activism, he has been subject to death threats and harassment by some. This highlights the complexities of public opinion towards the homeless in São Paulo.

The Homeless Workers Movement

On the political side, an up-and-coming Socialist politician named Guilherme Boulos recently ran for mayor of São Paulo. Although he lost, expectations have determined that he will be a leftist challenger in wider Brazilian politics in the near future. Boulos is a leader of the Homeless Workers Movement, a group that demands housing for the city’s homeless population. The group takes over abandoned buildings in the city center. By doing so, it demonstrates its potential use for public housing in acts of civil disobedience. Boulos has support from the controversial but still widely popular former Brazilian President Lula da Silva.

Conclusion

Homelessness was already an important issue in São Paulo prior to COVID-19, and it will remain one. Without more governmental assistance to community organizations, inequality and homelessness will continue to escalate. President Bolsonaro has shown a general lack of empathy for impoverished Brazilians. Instead, he chooses to exude strength and use harsh law enforcement tactics to address societal issues. Fortunately, community action in São Paulo has shown that many have not given up on trying to help vulnerable populations during these challenging times.

Matthew Brown
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Brazil Indigenous coronavirusThe coronavirus has resulted in deaths all over the world, but some communities are more heavily affected than others. In Brazil, the coronavirus in Indigenous communities has taken an especially hard toll. COVID-19 disproportionately affects these often-isolated groups, which struggle to access the support systems needed to withstand this threat.

The Vulnerability of Indigenous Communities

Some Indigenous tribes living in Brazil have limited or no contact with the rest of the world. However, this isolation may render some tribes unaware of the pandemic in general or of its full seriousness. The coronavirus in Indigenous communities may also put tribe members at a greater risk, because they lack exposure to many illnesses. This means that their immune systems are often not strong enough to fight COVID-19.

Additionally, isolated Indigenous communities only have limited access to unreliable testing, contact tracing and communication of quarantine protocols. Some would have to travel for days to reach modern medical facilities providing such resources.

In particular, Indigenous communities fear the village elders contracting the coronavirus. Elders are not only the most vulnerable members of the community but may also experience the most serious effects of the disease. Additionally, many refer to these elders as “living libraries” or “living encyclopedias.” They hold tribal knowledge of culture, mythology and natural medicine, and many speak endangered languages. If coronavirus in Indigenous communities wipes out this generation of elders, their tribe’s cultural history and knowledge will die with them.

Why Outsiders Pose a Threat

The rapid spread of the coronavirus in indigenous communities often results from outsiders who visit these communities without taking the proper precautions. For example, doctors working in remote Indigenous regions have tested positive for the coronavirus. They only entered quarantine after they possibly spread the disease to multiple villages. Additionally, other medical teams have failed to follow proper quarantine protocol before entering an Indigenous reserve to care for those vulnerable to the disease.

Miners and poachers tapping resources on Indigenous lands have also spread the virus to these isolated communities. In Brazil, an estimated 40% of Yanomami people who live near these mining operations are now at risk of contracting COVID-19. Leaders from the Yanomami Indigenous Territory have spoken out, creating the hashtag #MinersOutCovidOut. Their aim is to raise awareness and demand an end to illegal gold mines and other land invasions.

The budget cuts and staff reassignment faced by FUNAI, a government agency that defends the boundaries of Indigenous land in Brazil, have made it possible for illegal miners and poachers to enter these protected regions. Indigenous people in certain tribes have also claimed that FUNAI only gave food supplies and assistance to tribes on officially demarcated land. However, even this aid was not enough to feed the large families of the tribe.

The Government in Brazil

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has come under fire in the past for dismissive statements about Indigenous communities in Brazil. He has also allowed illegal logging, mining and land grabs to continue. Currently, Bolsonaro’s administration faces criticism for its response to the pandemic. The Brazilian government’s conflicts with Indigenous communities have resulted in inadequate support required for these communities to fight COVID-19.

The Brazilian Supreme Court ordered in July 2020 that the government must create a crisis response team and develop a plan to control the coronavirus. However, Bolsonaro recently vetoed proposed laws to provide vulnerable Indigenous communities with designated intensive care beds, clean water and essential supplies. Bolsonaro defended this decision by citing excessive costs that he claimed would go against public interest.

Fighting the Coronavirus in Indigenous Communities

To fight this crisis, Brazilian Indigenous communities and outsider organizations are joining forces. The NGO Brazilian Health Expeditionary, or Expedicionários Da Saúde, has helped Indigenous people from over 700 isolated communities in the Amazon by setting up temporary medical facilities with necessary supplies. Local officials and Indigenous groups collaboratively gather money and distribute food supplies in place of the unfulfilled promise of government assistance.

Many individual tribes are also protecting themselves from the spread of the virus by remaining in isolation from the rest of the world. This means that they seek medical care within their own communities. As such, though the severity of the coronavirus in Indigenous communities in Brazil is dire, it is not without hope.

Allie Beutel 
Photo: Pixabay

COVID-19 in Brazil
Brazil, the largest South American nation, recently recorded 100,000 casualties from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The country now has the second-highest figure of deaths linked to COVID-19. They come after the United States, which has over 150,000 casualties as of August 2020. President Jair Bolsonaro dismissed the effects of the virus out of concern for the nation’s economy. However, physicians working in the Brazilian Ministry of Health debated with him over the effects of social distancing. They also debated over the use of the controversial hydroxychloroquine on ill patients. Unable to come to an agreement with Bolsonaro, both ministers resigned from their position.

With conflicting views among Brazilian leaders on how to contain the virus, concerns start to rise. These concerns are about plans to mitigate the disease in Brazil, or the lack thereof. As the numbers increase, other leaders around the world have taken the initiative to halt the coronavirus’ spread in Brazil.

Environmental Activist Greta Thunberg’s Contribution

Greta Thunberg is a Swedish teenage activist prominent for mobilizing youth all over the world around the cause of global warming. She is donating $114,000 of prize money she received directly to efforts mitigating the coronavirus outbreak in the Amazon. She plans to send it to SOS Amazônia, a nongovernmental organization focused on protecting the Amazon rainforest. It also focuses on providing access to food, healthcare and hygiene to indigenous communities in the most vulnerable regions. This is not the first time Thunberg has contributed financially to weather the effects of the pandemic. In May 2020, she donated an additional $100,000 of the award money to UNICEF to protect children from the coronavirus. By aiding Brazilians’ fight against COVID-19, she hopes to bring awareness to people on the front lines affected by the climate crisis. This particularly applies to people in the global South.

Taiwan’s Efforts

The East Asian nation had a quick reduction of the virus during the early stages of the pandemic. It is also stepping in to contribute supplies in Brazil’s battle with the disease. Tsung-che Chiang, the nation’s representative to Brazil, donated 100,000 face masks to the residents of Manaus, a city suffering one of the biggest outbreaks of COVID-19 in Brazil. The masks will be sent by the Taiwanese government and distributed by the Manaus health department to public hospitals. This will protect medical personnel in the front lines of the virus’s battlegrounds. After Brazil, Taiwan has expressed interest in providing aid to other countries with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, under the Taiwan Can Help program.

Help from the Vatican

Vatican became aware of the lack of supplies in a hospital treating indigenous patients with COVID-19 in Brazil. As a result, Pope Francis sent a temperature gauge and respirator to the Campanha de Maraba Hospital that the apostolic nunciature in Brazil delivered. President Bolsonaro vetoed a law that would have provided indigenous populations with extra supplies and hospital beds due to their vulnerability to the virus. Because of this, the hospital was very much in need of the supplies. Pope Francis’ expressed affection for the Amazon made this contribution even more significant to the community near the hospital, which is predominantly Catholic. Including the aforementioned respirator, Brazil received three other respirators from the Vatican to subdue the spread of COVID-19 in Brazil.

Although the coronavirus’s presence in Brazil shows no sign of ending, neither have the efforts of leaders across the world. Numerous nations and authoritative figures donate their time and money to afflicted regions and organizations. Their efforts go toward organizations that provide much-needed aid to marginalized communities suffering from the virus. Once a unanimously-agreed-upon plan is formulated by the Brazilian government, a decline can be seen in the number of COVID-19 cases and casualties in South America’s largest nation.

Faven Woldetatyos
Photo: Flickr