It was only a matter of time: the coronavirus epidemic now affects the slums of Latin America where millions of inhabitants are at the risk of starvation. Authorities in Argentina have sounded the alarm after 84 proven cases of contamination and around 100 other suspects were detected in Villa Azul, a slum on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
The 3,000 residents were placed in total isolation, with the police forbidding them to leave the neighborhood. The aim is to prevent the virus from entering a neighboring slum, where 16,000 people are crowded. But in a region where the average informal employment rate reaches 54% (a number that is expected to increase in the coming months due to the economic crisis), it is difficult for the poorest to choose between “starving or dying because of the virus ”.
“How do we buy food?”
Another difficulty is that the overcrowding of these districts results in the violation of social distancing measures. The locals spend half of the day outside due to cramped accommodation.
It becomes very difficult for the vast majority of people to stay employed in any sector. Hence increasing the unemployment due to the downfall in the economy.
In other countries, criminal organizations are taking advantage of the state’s vacuum to expand their control. This is “the most alarming trend,” according to a security expert, who recently spoke on this subject in a forum in Washington, organized by the Organization of American States. In Mexico, cartels distribute food and medicine; in Honduras, gangs organize disinfection campaigns in the territories they control.
Faced with the deficiencies of the States, Churches and associations are also mobilized by organizing information campaigns, disinfection, and countless soup kitchens.
“We must have our own public policies and imagine alternatives in the absence of the government,” confirms Gilson Rodrigues, a neighborhood official in Paraisopolis, the second-largest slum in São Paulo (100,000 inhabitants) who is preparing “for the worst of scenarios “.
Brazil has now become the second country which is mostly affected by the pandemic in absolute numbers. After the United States with more than 25,000 deaths and more than 400,000 infections for 210 million inhabitants.
Another puzzle is the access to water. According to the UN, nearly 89 million people in the region do not have basic sanitation services, making regular hand washing difficult. Which is a basic method to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
In Peru, badly affected by the pandemic, nearly one-third of the 10 million inhabitants are thus facing serious problems of access to water.
“The water crisis in Lima is a silent threat. The most vulnerable populations are those who are at high risk of being exposed to the pandemic.
In Venezuela, the epidemic has already added to the worst economic situation, with ever-increasing shortages of electricity and petrol. In San Cristobal, a border town with Colombia, the family of Reinaldo Vega uses daily “scout” techniques.