Families from Rio de Janeiro receive emergency aid from CESE

Around the world, more than 3.5 million people have been diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19.  We have followed with bewilderment the impact of the pandemic in China, Italy, Spain, Ecuador and the United States.  The disease has already advanced¬ in Brazil, in parallel with a humanitarian and sanitary crisis and increasingly aggravated by a huge political one.

This pandemic does not affect people in the same way.  It has the potential to exterminate indigenous people, quilombolas, street dwellers, residents of peripheral areas, refugees and others.  It will leave profound scars and will reveal even further the social inequalities created by political and economic decisions.

Founded on these concerns, CESE has acted in partnership with social movements and grassroots organizations, such as the Centre of Grassroots Movements in Rio de Janeiro (Central de Movimentos Populares do Rio de Janeiro: CMPRJ), which are on the frontline to combat the new virus, expanding campaigns for donations of food, and hygiene and cleaning products, promoting information and providing guidance about caring for health.

On May 19, Rio de Janeiro reached the new milestone of 227 deaths in 24 hours.  It ranks second out of the Brazilian states most affected by the coronavirus epidemic and has recorded 22 thousand cases of COVID-19, with 3,079 deaths, 27,805 cases, 22,953 recovered and 994 deaths under investigation.  The public health network has hit 90% occupancy and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is lacking.  As a result, the city’s health system may collapse in the coming days, as the pandemic advances.

These numbers are official figures from the State Health Department. However, this count may be low and may not reflect the reality of those infected, since not everybody, particularly residents of low-income communities, have access to COVID-19 tests.  “There is no official monitoring in the favelas, let alone testing,” revealed Marcelo Braga Edmundo, Coordinator of the CMPRJ and member of its national coordination team.

For the representative of the organization, official figures fall well below the reality, “For more than a month, I have heard about people dying in shacks, without receiving any care, or the bodies even being removed.  In Providência, for example, a body remained in a home for three days, awaiting removal.  Unfortunately, many favela residents, who are at the forefront of organizing the communities, have also contracted the disease, I can say this about Cosme from Providência and André Constantine from Babilônia, among others” he reported.

Dona Zica Oliveira, member of the CMPRJ’s state coordination team, also warned about underreporting and drew attention to Rio de Janeiro’s executive and legislative sectors.  “I believe that the numbers are much higher, for example in the community I live, in Vilela Aliança Bangu.  At such a difficult moment, the government, at both state and municipal level, has treated the population with total neglect, with a lack of social and emergency policies to meet basic needs,” she asserted.

In an interview with TV PUC-Rio: The impact of COVID-19 in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, Davison Coutinho, doctoral student at Rio de Janeiro’s Pontifical Catholic University (Pontifícia Universidade Católica: PUC-RJ), one of the coordinators of the Support Centre for Studies and Action for Minors (Núcleo de Apoio de Estudos e Ação sobre o Menor: NEAM)  and Rocinha resident, explained that the new virus is considered to be the new “caveirão” [armoured car – a symbol of death portraying the repression suffered by the communities] which enters the favelas and reveals the historical absence of the state in these spaces, already more than a century old, yet still with the same problems.  “My feeling is one of sadness and denouncement of the neglect and massacre happening within these communities.  As well as social problems following isolation correctly, people do not have the option to work from home. Doormen, supermarket cashiers, domestic workers and drivers who keep the city going are not in isolation.  Rocinha, for example, is very busy with people on the streets,” he asserted.


Emergency aid to the project “Food for those who need it and quickly”

Marcelo Braga explains that inequality is more pronounced in the peripheral communities of Rio de Janeiro’s state capital. For the representative of the CMPRJ there is a “non-city” within the city, which does not have access to basic rights, such as sanitation, water and housing, and for this population confinement is impracticable: “The population that lives in the “non-city” often doesn’t appear in the statistics, nor even in social programmes.  They are not in the informal market, have no information, SMS, accounts, cannot access emergency support, in the end, they don’t have anything! Further, they live in a territory with no state action, except violent police action which continues even in the pandemic,” he declared.

Given the difficulties experienced by the population in accessing government aid and the lack of effective and permanent public policies in social areas, the CMPRJ has provided a concrete response, principally to what is most painful to human beings: hunger! Through the project “Food for those who need it and quickly”, CESE has provided support to expand the campaign for donations of food, and hygiene and cleaning products for 200 families in favelas, peripheral neighbourhoods and informal settlements in the city of Rio de Janeiro.

The following communities were served: the informal settlements of “Pequena África”: Vito Giannotti, Chiquinha Gonzaga, Quilombo da Gamboa, Morada da Conquista and Cortiços in Rio de Janeiro’s Port Zone; Vila Aliança in Bangu in the West Zone; and Morro do Sossego in the municipality of Duque de Caxias in the Baixada Fluminense region.

Dona Zica Oliveira talked about the importance of CESE’s support during the epidemic crisis: ”CESE has performed the greatest act of solidarity at this time, when many families in our communities suffer because they don’t have even the basics required for their survival, since hunger does not wait”. And Marcelo added: “The support was important, not only to satiate hunger, but also to give the families a little dignity”.


Campaign “Those who are hungry are in a hurry”

In March, the CMPRJ launched an emergency campaign in response to the COVID-19 epidemic crisis, which has caused such an enormous human and social tragedy in the state of Rio de Janeiro.  With the slogan: “Those who are hungry are in a hurry!” the initiative expects to collect cleaning and personal hygiene products, staple food baskets, hand sanitizer and/or funds and foodstuffs for favelas, peripheral neighbourhoods and informal settlements in the Rio de Janeiro state capital.  Through this campaign the organization has been able to distribute 400 baskets and intends to continue the work relying on the collaboration and solidarity of partners in the struggle for a more just, egalitarian world, one without exploitation.