Church organizations in the Brazilian Amazon, which have struggled to meet the needs of thousands of people during the worst phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, have been pointing out that the situation for the poorest has not changed, despite the normalization of social life during the past year.
One of the consequences of the continuous economic crisis in the region is widespread famine. According to information released by the Brazilian Research Network on Food Sovereignty and Security (Rede Penssan), 54 percent of the small growers in the Northern part of Brazil – which constitutes most of the rainforest – face serious or moderate food insecurity.
In large Amazonian cities like Manaus and Belém, church groups have noticed increasing numbers of homeless people on the streets and higher demands for donations.
Among several Indigenous groups, hunger has been steadily growing over the past few years, leading to humanitarian catastrophes like the one the Yanomami people is currently facing – which caused hundreds of deaths from starvation and malaria.
Earlier this month, the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network (REPAM) in Brazil launched a campaign against hunger in the region. The idea is to go beyond the simple distribution of food kits and highlight the roots of the problem.
“Hunger is a problem that has different dimensions in the Amazon. It impacts riverside communities, traditional peoples, and the urban poor. The Church needs to look at it with attention and develop a continuous effort to fight it,” Bishop Evaristo Spengler of Boa Vista, who heads REPAM Brazil, told Crux.
This year, the theme of the Bishops’ Conference’s Fraternity Campaign – a Lenten drive to collect funds for Catholic social works and raise awareness on social issues – was hunger, so all dioceses, parishes, and ecclesial organizations had a chance to reflect on the problem during Lent.
“Our idea is to keep campaigning in the Amazon till the end of 2023, considering the seriousness of hunger in the region,” Spengler added.
The causes of food insecurity in one of the most diverse biomes in the world are complex, explained Bishop Pedro Brito of Palmas, Tocantins state.
“In Tocantins, there are 9 million head of cattle and a population of 1.5 million residents. But all that beef does not reach the poor. Agribusiness is powerful, but does not benefit the people,” Brito said.
He said that many small growers feel the effects of the pollution caused by pesticides used in monocultures and end up selling their lands to big landowners. In the cities, they cannot find a job.
“The food prices are high, so no one is able to buy the necessary items. That is why hunger is growing,” he added.
In the city of Manaus, the largest in the Amazon with a population of 2.2 million, the local Caritas keeps distributing 3,000 food kits every week in different districts.
“The pandemic is over, but the unemployment rate is high. Poverty is increasing, especially on the outskirts of the city,” Deacon Afonso Brito, executive secretary of Caritas Manaus, told Crux.
The crisis was made worse by heavy rains that hit the region over the past few weeks, causing floods and destroying dozens of houses.
“We also realized that the number of Venezuelan immigrants arriving in the city has been growing. They ask for food and help to move to other regions,” Brito said.
After a huge influx of Venezuelans between 2018 and 2019, the number of people crossing the border with Roraima had ups and downs. Lately, at least 600 Venezuelan immigrants have been entering Brazil every day.
Source : Crux