Yesterday, President Martin Vizcarra announced a return to quarantine and mandatory social immobilization for a number of regions in Perú, including Arequipa, parts of Lima, and Ica. President Vizcarra noted the increasing cases and the challenges the health system is having containing the pandemic. He said, "It is preferable to go back a step to generate the responsibility of all."
This is a sound public health decision. It is a decision that puts the health and welfare of the Peruvian people above politics. It is, however, a decision that will have continued devastating impacts in the lives of people living in the experience of poverty.
It has been over four months since the first declaration of a national state of emergency and corresponding lockdown measures. The pandemic has had profound impacts in the developing and middle-income world. This is especially true in the Peruvian economy and society. People who were vulnerable before the pandemic, are literally falling through the cracks of the social safety nets in Latin America.
For Perú, in an economy where over 70% of the workforce is employed in the informal sector – if you work you get paid and eat, if you don’t work you go hungry - people are struggling to gain access to their basic life needs.
According to a UN special report released in early July, the coronavirus (COVID- 19) pandemic, has led to worst recession in the region in a century, causing a 9.1% contraction in regional GDP. Fears are this recession will push the number of people living in poverty up by 45 million (to a total of 230 million) and the number of people living in the experience of extreme poverty by 28 million (to 96 million in total).
Latin America was already, well before coronavirus, one of the most unequal regions in the world - and the differential impacts of COVID-19 are making this situation much worse. The sharp drop in economic activity – tourism, exports, taxes - is expected to lift the unemployment rate from about 8.1% to over 13.5%.
COVID is having particularly devastating impacts in the lives of women. Women run households are disproportionally represented in the experience of poverty in Latin America. For every 100 men between the ages of 25 and 59 living in the experience of poverty, there were 113 women in the same situation.
The pandemic is exacerbating existing food insecurity. Latin America has seen an almost three-fold rise in the number of people requiring food assistance. According a UN World Food Program report - around 1.9 million Peruvians suffered from moderate food insecurity prior to the crisis. No estimates were available for severe food insecurity – it is clear the pandemic is having devastating impact on people living in the experience of extreme poverty and estimates now show that 12.62 million people are moderately food insecure and an additional 3.56 million are severely food insecure - bringing the total number of estimated food insecure people in Perú to over 16 million – nearly 50% of the total population.
If food insecurity is not enough experts estimate the global fatality from COVID-19 will reach between 40 and 60 million people. This will inevitably leave many children without a parent or caregiver. Child welfare experts fear the number of abandoned children in response to the pandemic will overwhelm care settings and lead to even more uncertain futures.
This is a crisis situation, and it is - by every measure - devastating. It is a time for action.
So where do we start? We working in the nexus of short-term response and the long-term solutions. We've increased our efforts to bring direct food, health and social services relief to underserved communities. We're providing more direct assistance to the families our Ines Project. We're working with a number of partners on the ground to be a safety net for marginalized populations. And, we continuing to build the structures that will help to fortify health services delivery for underserved populations well into the future.
One way we are planning for longterm, sustainable impact is with our Girasoles Center of Excellence Program. Let me tell you the story of a boy who came to live in one of our Casa Girasoles homes during the pandemic. By all accounts, Alex (not his real name) had a hard life even before the pandemic. Food insecurity and economic poverty plagued the family. Adding the pandemic to baseline economic fragility and under-diagnosed and untreated mental health conditions in his mother – and his family situation went from bad to worse very quickly. When he came to live with us - the first photograph I received was of a shy boy uncertain where to stand or look to have his picture taken. What I later found out was this small boy had come to our home under terrible conditions of abuse. The coronavirus crisis had stretched what meager coping skills the mother could recruit in her life – and she broke. She beat, burned and tormented Alex.
Look Alex's coming to us – it is the start. It is the start to develop a pathway to the life he deserves. It is the start of ensuring he has the support he needs to build the resiliency and attachment that will guide him forward in his life. But you see, our work – it can’t stop with Alex – we have a responsibility to reach further . . . to build bridges of support to help his mother – his family – gain access to the knowledge and skills they need to foster better relationships and create deeper attachments. We have a responsibility to help families living in the experience of deep poverty find the wholeness they deserve.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed all the terrible inequality and inequity in the world. People who, before the pandemic were suffering to gain access to the services and supports, they needed are now desperate and in deep trouble. Poverty should never separate a child from their parent – and yet, the profound economic impacts of the global pandemic are separating thousands – hundreds of thousands of children – from their families.
We can help. We can make a difference. We can change the life of Alex. We can help his mother find the services and the supports she needs to rebuild her life and the lives of her children. This is the work we are doing in developing a model program that works to provide evidence-based services and supports for children living in orphanages and residential care facilities - and builds bridges to prevent family breakdowns by helping build the core skills to foster healthy attachment in all homes.
Our Center of Excellence program is a bold undertaking. It's a multiyear commitment that brings together a number of child welfare specialists, researchers, and care givers. It is an undertaking we are 100% committed to developing and facilitating – and, it takes a lot of resources. It takes people. It takes time. That is why we are launching - starting next week - a 6-week campaign to raise $100,000. We know, with resources and support – we can and WILL change the lives of thousands of children like Alex.
This is an incredibly challenging time. This is a long, winding road. We have no choice but to work together to ensure every child, every mother, every person . . . has access to the opportunities they need to build the futures they deserve.
In the coming week, please stay tuned for the launch of our campaign - and thank you for supporting of our mission to change the world by building bridges of collaboration and service.
The HBI Blog is a rotating journal from our staff. Our Blog is a series of messages from the field, insights from our work, and lessons in service.