Families in São Paulo receive Emergency Aid from Feact Brazil with support from the Act Alliance

2 thousand food baskets, as well as hygiene and cleaning articles will be distributed in an activity led by KOINONIA, representing the Ecumenical Forum ACT Brazil, in coordination with MAB.

By Natália Blanco/ Koinonia
Including information from Liciane Andrioli and Ubiratã de Souza Dias/ MAB São Paulo


Over the last three months, approximately 500 families affected by flooding in neighbourhoods in the East and South Zones of São Paulo and in Baixada Santista have received food baskets and hygiene and cleaning kits; an activity that expanded at the beginning of May.  This is coordinated in local alliance with the Movement of People Affected by Dams (Movimento de Atingidos por Barragens: MAB), a partner of Koinonia, which represents the Ecumenical Forum ACT Brazil1.

Through an ACT Alliance Emergency Fund2, the activity forms part of a project of solidarity and organization with families affected by recurrent flooding, now in an even more vulnerable situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The impact is worrying and signals the need for civil society coalitions of solidarity with the families, which are mostly female-headed.  According to the study “Coronavirus – Mothers of the Favela” conducted in 260 favelas around the country by the Locomotive Institute and Data Favela, approximately 5 million mothers live in favelas.  Each mother has an average of 2.7 children.  Around 70% confirm that food provision is jeopardized by the absence of or a sharp reduction in income due to social isolation.  According to the survey, approximately 40% of mothers who live in favelas are self-employed, while only 15% are formally employed.

The process of mapping and dialogue with the families has been going on since the middle of March and includes connecting with partners in each territory – social workers, health agents, social movements, local neighbourhood leaders and churches have been willing to cooperate.   We identified a range of solidarity activities already underway in various neighbourhoods and, by registering families, we identified those whom the help has not reached and locations where decentralized distribution, avoiding crowds, would be possible.

Around 2 thousand baskets will be distributed in the following neighbourhoods: União de Vila Nova, Jardim Romero, Jardim Penha, Vila Seabra and Vila Itaim Paulista, affected by the Penha dam in the East Zone; Grajaú, Pedreira, Cidade Dutra and São Luiz around the Billings dam, in the South Zone; and the Pilões neighbourhood, a region at the side of the Cubatão river, in the town of the same name, in Baixada Santista. As well as baskets, psychosocial support has also been provided with house-to-house visits and public advocacy activities, particularly communication initiatives during this time of confinement.

The first delivery of baskets and kits took place in the first week of May, the next are scheduled for the end of May and June, with attention paid to the safety measures required to avoid the exposure of volunteers or beneficiaries to the COVID-19 virus.

For Liciane Andrioli from MAB in São Paulo “at this time, with the neoliberal policies of the Bolsonaro government, thousands of people have lost their rights, many are unemployed or living through informal employment.  With the COVID-19 pandemic, these people’s living conditions have become even more precarious.  This solidarity activity began with the floods and will also help to alleviate this situation a little”.


Solidarity and grassroots organization become the main weapons against the pandemic

São Paulo is facing the consequences of being the largest metropolis in Brazil by becoming the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic.  Given the current scenario of setbacks, families that historically experience difficulties caused by a lack of urban planning and the inequalities this involves, are experiencing these even more intensely with the arrival of the virus.

Policies that do not consider the city as a part of nature, that neglect access to housing, sanitation and income distribution, end up promoting the emergence of disorder in countless informal settlements, favelas and communities at the edge of dams or in risk zones below them.  The three regions in which the solidarity activity will take place have something in common: they experience the systematic impact of recurrent flooding.

According to the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ), the COVID-19 Death Rate in Brazil is 6.8%, however, since we are also dealing with the problem of underreporting, due to inequalities in access to health and testing, FIOCRUZ notes that this number could be 10 times higher.  The zones most affected by COVID-19 in the city are situated in its peripheral areas, Brasilândia in the North Zone and Sapopemba in the East.

It has been proven that the virus is also excreted in faeces, further compromising populations that live without basic sanitation.  In March, the SOS Atlantic Forest Foundation (Fundação SOS Mata Atlântica) published a study covering 181 stretches of river and bodies of water in the Atlantic forest perimeter, demonstrating that 95% of the quality of this mineral resource is compromised.

According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística: IBGE), more than half the Brazilian population does not have access to refuse collection services, while 34 million do not have running water, deepening the already profound chasm of inequality provoked by an economic system where nature, which does not exclude human life, only serves for consumption.

MAB questions the allocation of resources and riches generated by the dams in the South Zone – the Billings and Guarapiranga Dams, the largest water reservoirs in São Paulo’s Metropolitan Region.

Ubiratã de Souza Dias from MAB’s regional coordination team notes: “the water and electrical energy generated by the dams are sold to the population and generate huge profits for the companies that provide this service. However, we have not seen any of the riches generated here returning in the form of improvements for families.  In fact, many of the affected families that live on the edge of the reservoir have access neither to treated water, nor to sewage collection or treatment, something which we are taking into consideration in the support we provide.”


¹ The Ecumenical Forum ACT Brazil is made up of 23 faith-based organizations including 7 churches.  It has existed under this name for 18 years and promotes activities for the Secular Rule of Law from an ecumenical perspective in which our planet and our causes cannot leave anyone behind, we are all part of the same future and Common House.

² The Forum is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of 151 faith-based organizations and churches that work together in more than 125 counties.