SEATTLE, Washington — Amassing one of the highest numbers of COVID-19 deaths in the world, Brazil is battling a pandemic with economic impacts that are exhausting its hunger crisis. Despite being one of the world’s largest food exporters, the country has struggled with its own food insecurities over the past decade as more people slipped into poverty and fell into hunger. Now, with rising unemployment rates and a reduced federal aid budget for social programs, more Brazilians are at risk of extreme hunger.
A Decade-Old Problem
Where there is poverty, especially extreme poverty, there is hunger, and Brazil is no exception. In 2019, over 13 million people in Brazil lived in extreme poverty. This is a drastic decline in progress with regard to poverty and food insecurity in the country over the past decade.
In 2014, social programs that were responsible for pulling 30 million Brazilians out of poverty and food insecurity, enabled Brazil to be removed from the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Hunger Map. The Hunger Map tracks every country’s level of undernourishment, highlighting in yellow, orange or red countries with over 5% of its populations consuming fewer calories than what is recommended.
That same year, these programs were met with budget cuts when Brazil faced an economic crisis when commodity prices were cut. Furthermore, over 12 million Brazilian’s were unemployed when Brazil slipped into a recession from 2015 to 2016.
These 12 million Brazilians without steady income were also likely looking for ways to afford food expenses, which were growing costlier from the recession. In 2014, before the economic crisis dealt its blows to Brazil’s economy through rising unemployment rates, cuts to social programs alleviating poverty and rising food prices, less than 5.1 million people were undernourished. In 2017, this number rose to 5.2 million people.
The COVID-19 Pandemic and the Hunger Epidemic
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, 26.5% of Brazil’s population were poor, meaning nearly 55 million people were teetering on the edge of extreme poverty. Now, 38 million informal workers met with unemployment in quarantine are confronted by a similar fate. Informal workers are employees who are not taxed or monitored by Brazil’s government.
Brazil also has one of the highest numbers of COVID-19 deaths. Further exacerbated by the global pandemic, Brazil’s hunger epidemic is predicted to grow as millions of Brazilians fall into poverty and food insecurity. Although the number of Brazilians who will face hunger during the pandemic is uncertain for now, the World Food Programme predicts the number of people who will experience severe hunger will double to 270 million people around the globe.
Brazil’s government provided three monthly payments to people who lost their incomes, in response to the surge in unemployment from the pandemic. Many Brazilians, however, have experienced difficulty retrieving these payments and it is also uncertain whether Brazil’s government will reissue additional installments as the economic situation continues to deteriorate.
But these initial payments are slim compensations for covering necessities like food expenses. Instead of waiting for additional government aid, Brazilians are relying on local groups and volunteers to feed their communities. In São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the two most populated cities in Brazil, local volunteers are providing food to those who can’t afford meals during the pandemic.
Organizations Addressing Hunger in Brazil
The Paraisópolis Women’s Association, a community-lead organization focused on supporting female households, is one of these aid groups. In response to the hunger crisis during the pandemic, the association’s volunteers are pooling their efforts to prepare and deliver meals to women and their families in São Paulo. The group anticipates increasing their production to 10,000 meals a day.
Providing support to women is a pertinent task during the pandemic. The Associated Press relaid the details of a recent Oxfam report saying, “Women and women-headed households are more likely to go hungry because they make up a large proportion of hard-hit groups.” These “hard-hit groups” are comprised of women who balance informal jobs and an uptick in unpaid labor and care work prompted by school closings and ill family members.
Citizens’ Action, another volunteer organization, is taking action in Rio de Janeiro. Like the Paraisópolis Women’s Association, Citizens’ Action provides food to impoverished areas in its community. To offer as much care as possible, the organization is focusing all its effort and cash on keeping families from going hungry.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue of hunger in Brazil but organizations and volunteers are stepping up to save lives by feeding their local communities.
– Grace Mayer