For much of Latin America, the hunger caused by the coronavirus pandemic is feared more than the disease itself. "This is a region where one in three people faced food insecurity even before the first appearance of COVID-19 cases. A recent report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean predicts a 5% contraction in the economy and an increase in unemployment to more than 11% – making this the biggest crisis of the last century," says Benedetta Lettera, Regional Manager for Action Against Hunger.
As movement restrictions and confinement measures impact on the daily diet of millions of people, they are increasingly difficult to sustain: "In Lima, the street market did not take long to reappear after more than 40 days of isolation, and there is no longer respect for social isolation requirements,” explains América Arias, Country Director for Action Against Hunger in Peru, where there are more than 88,000 confirmed cases.
Peru also has significant internal displacement: 165,000 people have requested humanitarian transfers in attempts to leave the capital and return to their hometowns due to job losses. "We are seeing groups of people camped out on the edge of the country's roads, waiting for transport. There have already been reports of children dying during the journey, as well as of fatalities and roadside killings," said Arias.
In Colombia, Action Against Hunger’s Country Director John Orlando is concerned for the hundreds of Venezuelans who are trying to return home: "Buses from different parts of the country arrive at border stations such as Norte de Santander and, in these situations, it is essential to guarantee protection to minimize the risks of contagion from both sides of the border.” Other potentially high-risk populations include the indigenous people in the Amazon region and in the border city of Leticia between Peru and Brazil, the country with the highest number of reported cases in Latin America.
In Guatemala, where the state of disaster has been extended until June 4, there is concern about the limited testing capacity and a growing trend of returning migrants. "Guatemala only has 13 doctors and nurses per 10,000 inhabitants, while in some areas, there is only one ICU for 400 people. The country is one of the least equipped health systems in Latin America. In addition, more than 70% of the working population faces extreme economic uncertainty as they lack work contracts or social safety nets and therefore depend on daily earnings for their livelihoods," explains Miguel Ángel García, Regional Director for Central America. “Given how impossible it is for many to earn sufficient income, we can expect an increase in child malnutrition, which already affected half of the country's children under age five before the pandemic.”
These same socioeconomic and health concerns are compounded by migration: "Remittances sent by Guatemalan migrants abroad will be reduced by at least 25%, just as families need them most. On the other hand, the governments of the United States and Mexico have continued with deportations of those detained at their borders -- without proper health checks. This has caused an indeterminate number of migrants to return to Guatemala sick with COVID-19, at a time when the health and welfare system is under the greatest pressure," adds García.
Action Against Hunger’s Response
Throughout Latin America, Action Against Hunger’s teams are distributing food, prevention supplies, and hygiene materials. We are also providing cash transfers and supporting the physical and mental health of those experiencing hunger caused by the pandemic.
With diverse and unique populations, we are adapting our response to the meet the needs of each country. In Peru, our team collaborates with a network of local Peruvian and Venezuelan organizations – together, we have distributed 44 tons of food donated by the private sector and Peruvian institutions. In addition, we are partnering with the Ministry of Health to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through messaging campaigns and distributions of protective equipment and hygiene products.
In Colombia, we are distributing food and monitoring the nutrition status of children in border areas, while working to prevent disease through hygiene awareness and distribution of supplies in highly populated urban areas, such as the city of Bogotá. We also work in close collaboration with local partners to disinfect and prevent disease in health facilities.
In Guatemala and Nicaragua, Action Against Hunger is distributing food and hygiene kits, as well as disinfecting health facilities and training staff in infection prevention and control measures.