(This article was originally published by Contra Corriente.)
The Red Cross has arrived to the communities in the so-called Dry Corridor. It has brought them aid double the cost of what was promised by the government, and six months into the pandemic, it’s the first time that many of the farming families that live in this impoverished zone of the country have seen any help.
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Cepal for its Spanish acronym) predicts that by the end of 2020, at least 83.4 million people on the continent will fall into extreme poverty, as a result of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning a total of 15.9 million more people in poverty. According to Cepal, this represents 13.5 percent of the population in the region, which is the highest rate of poverty in the last 20 years.
Oneida López, local councillor for the ruling National Party of Honduras in the municipality of Opatoro – a municipality high in the coffee-producing mountains of the La Paz department and 97.9 kilometers from the closest hospital located in the department’s major city – explains that the municipality of Opatoro has prepared to combat the pandemic: “We allocated, at the beginning of the pandemic, municipal funds for food rations for a thousand of our municipality’s most vulnerable families.” The rations that councillor López refers to are valued at about $20 dollars each, and they are the only aid that the mayor’s office of Opatoro has been able to give directly to its residents during five months of the pandemic – one thousand food rations in a municipality with a population of more than 7,000 people.
López also claims that the local government that she represents has invested municipal funds – through the transfers [of federal funds] to designated municipalities to ease the effects of Covid – to buy the treatment MAIZ (microdacyn, azithromycin, ivermectin and zinc), a packet provided at no cost by the Health Ministry in its home visits to people with or suspected of having Covid.
As of September 8, 2020, the La Paz department reported 1,179 positive cases and 37 deaths from Covid, according to official data from the National Risk Management System (Sinager for its Spanish acronym). In the official data online reporting the advance of Covid in the country, it’s not possible to look up municipal statistics. As of May, La Paz was one of the five departments with the least PCR tests carried out, according to statistics from the Health Ministry.
According to the website of the Presidency of Honduras, to ease the effects of Covid in the country, the Honduras government will allocate about 250 million lempiras ($10.12 million USD) for the construction of triage centers and medical brigades in 298 municipalities, another 200 million lempiras ($8.09 million USD) that should come out of municipal transfers and another 500 million lempiras ($20.23 million dollars) donated by the Interamerican Development Bank that would be used to increase the capacity of public hospitals in the country.
The program coordinated by the Honduran Red Cross, Community Basin Management - Our Goascarán Basin, benefits at least 2,700 families affected by Covid in 17 municipalities in the basin, and provides some 37 health centers in the zone with biosecurity equipment. The food families receive from the project – valued at about $46 dollars per ration – means feeding themselves for 15 days in places where the closest store is four hours walking and where the little commerce that did exist before the pandemic ended up completely paralyzed given the restrictions declared by the Honduran government in its attempt to contain the advance of the pandemic. The program has also provided water filters to some communities in the Goascorán basin.
These predominantly farming communities have found themselves at the mercy of the social handouts of these organizations. Up in the mountains over the basin, where the telefone signal falters and access to education is minimal, it has become unthinkable in the context of the pandemic for kids and adolescents to be able to access the internet to continue their studies. Health centers operate with just the basics.
*Translated by Anna-Catherine Brigida