Coronavirus-battered Brazil also facing growing hunger crisis

By Alba Santandreu

Sao Paulo, Mar 24 (efe-epa).- A year after the onset of the pandemic in Brazil, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths attributed to Covid-19 continues to mount.

By contrast, aid for the poor has been in steady decline, and in low-income areas like Paraisopolis – one of Sao Paulo’s largest favelas – thousands of families are facing the daily sting of hunger.

On a busy street in that shantytown, hundreds of people, most of them women with their young children and the elderly, have been lining up early in the morning to receive a plate of food at a local community center. For many of them, it will be their only meal of the day.

Juceni Rodrigues is the mother of eight children, not including “one that God took away.” All of them are unemployed and depend on the food distributed each morning by the neighborhood association in Paraisopolis, a huge slum that is home to 120,000 people.

“I need help. I don’t get anything. The only help I have is this. I have nothing at home now; the cupboards are bare,” said the 61-year-old Rodrigues, who is helping to support her 28 grandchildren.

Others in line are experiencing similar economic deprivation.

Regiane Aparecida was one of the first to arrive at the community center. She and her husband are unemployed and support their two daughters on just 400 reais a month (about $76).

In December, they and 56 million other Brazilians stopped receiving a federal government subsidy aimed at alleviating the economic impact of Covid-19, a disease blamed for nearly 300,000 deaths in the South American country.

President Jair Bolsonaro is pushing for a resumption in coronavirus aid in early April, but the amount of the relief package remains unclear and Aparecida does not know when new cash handouts will arrive.

“Everything’s expensive, the rice, the beans. Thank God we have tupperware. I don’t mind not eating, but the girls …,” she said.

Another person waiting in line is Magno Trajano. He was released from prison in December amid the pandemic and has been unable to find work. He occasionally receives a basket of basic food items but does not even have a stove for preparing a meal.

“I’m not going to let despair drive me crazy. I’m going to be patient,” he said.

When the pandemic erupted in Brazil in March 2020, a wave of solidarity swept through the country’s favelas. In Paraisopolis, a total of 10,000 daily plates of food were prepared thanks to local donations.

But that number has plunged to 1,000 plates per day even though the situation now is much more critical due to the drying up of federal aid and rising unemployment.

Covid-19 deaths in Brazil climbed to a new all-time high of more than 3,000 on Tuesday, roughly 1,000 of them in Sao Paulo state.

While the country’s burgeoning public health crisis makes international headlines, Paraisopolis community leader Gilson Rodrigues pointed to an equally pressing problem.

“The new normal is thousands of people unemployed with not enough food on their plates,” he told Efe.



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