The impossible fight against the coronavirus in the shanty towns of Latin America

L’impossible lutte contre le coronavirus dans les bidonvilles d’Amérique latine

Montevideo | It was only a matter of time: the epidemic of the coronavirus affects the shanty towns of Latin America, where millions of residents are unable to comply with the preventive measures, the risk of dying of hunger.

“We are increasingly concerned about the poor and other vulnerable groups more exposed to disease and death because of the virus,” said recently the director of the pan american health Organization (PAHO), Carissa Etienne.

With a curve of infections is soaring in countries such as Brazil, Peru, and Chile, and a likely underestimation of cases, the situation is explosive.

In Argentina, the authorities have sounded the alarm after the detection of the 84 cases of contamination proved to be, and a hundred other suspects in Villa Azul, a slum on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

The 3,000 inhabitants have been placed in total isolation, with prohibition to leave the area cordoned off by police. The goal is to avoid that the virus enters a slum nearby, where a crowd of 16 000 people.

But in a region where the average rate of informal jobs reached 54%, a number that is expected to grow in the coming months due to the economic crisis difficult for the poorest to choose between “die of hunger or die because of the virus”.

For Dalia Maimon, of the federal University of Rio de Janeiro, the logic is the following: by not working, “I am sure to die of hunger, then I take the risk, trying not to be contaminated, and I’m going to work”.

“How we buy to eat ?”

Another problem is the overpopulation of these districts does not facilitate the application of the measures of social distancing. The inhabitants spend a good portion of the day outside due to cramped housing conditions in which they often live several generations.

With regard to teleworking, it is impossible for the vast majority of people employed in the services or the informal sector. And unemployment continues to rise due to the paralysis of the economy.

“We are construction workers, vendors, we go out every day. With the confinement, everything was closed down and most of us no longer work”, explained to AFP Oscar Gonzalez, a Chilean of 43 years.

The welder lives in the neighbourhood of Brisas del Sol, one of the most densely populated of the metropolitan areas of Santiago, where riots are multiplied for claim assistance the State. “We do not have even a small help from the government. They believe that we can live without money, but how we buy to eat?”, gets the craftsman.

In other countries, criminal organizations take advantage of the vacuum left by the State to extend their control. It is “the trend is the most alarming,” according to security expert Douglas Farah, spoke recently on the topic in a forum in Washington organized by the Organization of american States.

In Mexico, the cartels distribute food and medicines; in Honduras, the gangs are organizing campaigns of disinfection in the territories they control.

Threat silent

In the Face of the deficiencies of the States, Churches and associations will also mobilise in organizing information campaigns, disinfection, and countless soup kitchens.

A 6 de Mayo, in the outskirts of Santiago, the locals know where we live, the sick, and organize themselves to bring them food. “If we don’t help them, nobody will do it,” said Gloria Reyes, a seamstress of 62 years.

“We need to have our own public policy and to imagine alternatives in the absence of the government,” confirms Gilson Rodrigues, head of district to Paraisopolis, the second biggest slum in São Paulo (100 000 inhabitants), who is preparing for “the worst scenarios”.

Brazil is now the second country most affected by the pandemic in terms of absolute numbers, after the United States, with more than 25 000 deaths and over 400 000 infections for 210 million inhabitants.

Other headache, the access to the water. According to the UN, nearly 89 million people in the region do not have basic services of sanitation, making it difficult for the regular washing of hands, the basic rule for preventing the spread of the Covid-19.

In Peru, severely affected by the pandemic, nearly one-third of the 10 million inhabitants of Lima are thus confronted with severe problems of access to water, especially in the peripheral areas.

“The water crisis in Lima is a threat silent. The most vulnerable populations are those who are more likely to be exposed to the pandemic,” says the AFP Mariella Sanchez, director of the NGO Aquafondo.

In Venezuela, the epidemic is coming, adding to an economic situation that is already dire, with shortages of electricity and gasoline always more numerous. In San Cristobal, a city located on the border with Colombia, the family of Reinaldo Vega uses on a daily basis to techniques of “scouts”.

“This is how we survive,” he said to the AFP in going in search of firewood for cooking.

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