NEW YORK, New York — As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Brazil, local organizations are working to help vulnerable populations and address hunger in Brazil during the pandemic. Brazil has turned into a global hotspot for the virus, ranking in the top three countries with the highest cases in the world.
COVID-19 in Brazil
Latin America as a whole is struggling to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak, but Brazil’s situation is made even worse by minimal government intervention and aid. “The government’s efforts to support the most impacted people are inefficient and not enough compared to the need,” said Tatiana Bertolucci, Latin America director for CARE, in an interview with The Borgen Project.
The government’s lack of COVID-19 support is even more pressing because the pandemic has already taken a large toll on Brazilians who depend on the informal economy, according to Bertolucci. More than 1.2 million domestic workers have lost their jobs during the pandemic. As the unemployment rate and COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Brazil, Brazil’s statistics agency also reports the rise in the price of food, making hunger in Brazil even more widespread.
How COVID-19 Exacerbates Poverty and Hunger in Brazil
The inadequate government response to the pandemic has only exacerbated inequality in Brazil, which was already one of the most unequal countries in the world. Bertolucci said, “Power, economic resources, better education and health access are concentrated in the hands of a small part of the population while the majority of the population does not have access to basic services.” She added, “The root causes of poverty in Brazil are not due to lack of resources but actually due to the poor distribution of the existing and abundant resources the country has.”
The pandemic has also had a disproportionate effect on the poorest Brazilians. These people often live in small houses where it is difficult to social distance and do not have proper access to water to maintain hygiene. Furthermore, the public health systems are not equipped to deal with such high numbers, Bertolucci added.
The Impact of NGOs in Brazil
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Brazil, local organizations have taken it upon themselves to fill in the gaps and support the most vulnerable people in the country. Nonprofit organizations have played a huge role in distributing food during the pandemic. “Ação da Cidadania alone has fed more than two million people during the pandemic,” CEO Rodrigo Afonso said in an interview with The Borgen Project.
“We didn’t have any help from the government at the beginning of the pandemic,” Afonso added. Afonso estimated that 20 to 30 million people have received food through nonprofit organizations and individual and company donations. “If they hadn’t stepped up, there would be social chaos,” he added.
The Need for Increased Aid to Address Hunger
Because of the pandemic, the unemployment rate in Brazil reached 13.3% in June 2020 (14.9% for women). This is the highest rate it’s been in the past three years. Ação da Cidadania predicts that, by the end of 2020, there will be more than 100 million people in food insecurity. The Brazilian Government did offer a living stipend for those struggling the most, but it was temporary and not enough to meet the need.
Nonprofit organizations are combating poverty and aim to address hunger in Brazil through immediate humanitarian efforts as well as policy advocacy. “UNESCO’s normal poverty reduction efforts were not sufficient once the pandemic began,” said Marlova Noleto, Director of UNESCO in Brazil, in an interview with The Borgen Project. Now, the organization is distributing credit cards, specifically for groceries, to mothers in Brazil. Recipients are able to buy whatever foods best fit their needs during the pandemic.
Through this program, UNESCO has fed more than 1.3 million families and five million people in Brazil since late February 2020. “While the government is doing a very poor job in handling the pandemic in Brazil, local civil society and community groups have been organized, supporting the most vulnerable communities and leading the way to this crisis,” Bertolucci said.
Food Donations Spike During COVID-19
During the pandemic, Açao pela Cidadania has received more donations than ever before to meet the increased demand for aid. These organizations work to advocate for sustainable solutions to global hunger through policy advocacy. However, there also needs to be immediate change because hunger is an immediate threat.
The flood of donations during COVID-19 has been a pleasant surprise, but organizations need to address hunger in Brazil all of the time, not just in times of crisis and tragedy. Afonso said, “Food insecurity and hunger is an issue that cannot be a one-time thing; it has to be continuous,” Afonso added. “People cannot wait until the policy arrives … Who is in hunger is in a hurry.”
– Laney Pope