by Sofia Mareque
As the coronavirus continues to proliferate globally, it is beginning to affect the most vulnerable marginal communities across the continents. That is the case for Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, which house 20% of Rio’s 6.7 million residents. Even though there have only been 140 reported coronavirus cases in Rio’s favelas, community leaders are worried that the real number is much worse in reality due to the lack of testing available.
The main issue faced by informal workers in these slums is currently unemployment, which has ultimately led to diminishing food supply. Rosana de Paula, a 37-year-old worker from a cooperative in Duque de Caixas, now struggles to survive in the collapsing economy after Brazil’s governors issued a full lockdown that shut off all businesses. “When I was working, the weekend would arrive and the fridge wouldn’t be overflowing, but we had enough,” says de Paula, now unemployed, as she looks at the empty shelves of her fridge.
In response, Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, issued a monthly stipend of 116$ to 33 million of Brazil’s informal workers earlier this month. However, experts like Pedro Guimarães, the CEO of Caixa Economica Federal (government-owned bank), expects there to be as many as 60 million people who must receive these payments, insinuating that the aid may be insufficient. With no national statistics available on the growing hunger in Rio’s favelas “the pandemic has exposed how little the Brazilian state knows about its poorest citizens,” writes Dom Phillips from The Guardian.
Fortunately, large food trucks are spotted driving around Rio’s slums every now and again. These are run by a local NGO called “Citizens’ Action” (Ação de Cidadania). Founded by sociologist Herbert de Souza in 1993, the NGO has formed a monumental network that has been able to help 32 million Brazilians living under the poverty line. In response, the NGO has intensified their distribution of food throughout the country, by distributing 760 tonnes of food and have helped 300 000 Brazilians so far. They’re calling on the public and private sector to pitch in and aid in the distribution of food. In addition to Citizens’ Action, the NGO CUFA (Central Única da Favelas) provided the government with their 14 recommendations on how to prevent chaos in the favelas. Their recommendations include provision of personal care items, free WiFi so residents may inform themselves on Covid-19.