The queues of food distribution points continue to grow in the big cities of Brazil, where hunger is gaining ground in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.

In central Sao Paulo, Miguel da Silva lined up with around 300 people before finally getting a plate with rice, some meat and some vegetables.

“It’s better to come here than to beg,” the 70-year-old man told AFP.

Same distress in Rio de Janeiro, with hundreds of people in another endless line, under the scorching sun, including pregnant women. For the most part, this will be the only meal of the day.

“Everything is expensive. If I had to buy the food we are given here, it would cost me more than 1,000 reais (nearly 150 euros) per month”, deplores Mario Lima, 72, who only receives 1,045 retirement income, the equivalent of the minimum wage.

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The coronavirus has killed more than 317,000 people in Brazil in one year, but the health crisis has also caused unemployment to skyrocket, with its share of new poor, new hungry.

– “It’s getting worse” –

The pandemic has only accentuated a trend observed for six years in this country champion of the agro-food industry.

Last year, the director of the UN World Food Program in Brazil, Daniel Balaban, warned that the country was making “great strides” towards a return to the Hunger Map, which it left in 2014. Those who appear there have more than 5% of their population in a state of extreme poverty.

The World Bank estimated that 5.4 million Brazilians would fall into this category by the end of last year, bringing the total extremely poor to 14.7 million, out of a population of 212 million. .

“It is clearly the most frightening moment that we have known in the fight against hunger”, assures Rodrigo Afonso, director of the Action for Citizenship association.

When this NGO was created in 1993, hunger hit especially the poorest regions of the North and North-East.

“Today, everywhere we go, we see a lot of families who do not have the means to eat, and it is getting worse and worse,” he summarizes.

A study by the Getulio Vargas Foundation from November showed that nearly a third of the Brazilian population suffered from food insecurity.

The government of President Jair Bolsonaro, much criticized for its management of the health crisis, had paid allowances to nearly a third of the poorest Brazilians from last April.

But these “emergency aid” of 600 reais (around 90 euros) were halved in September, then payments ceased at the end of the year.

These allocations were providential, but it has been three months since the most vulnerable have been virtually without income, at the worst time of the pandemic, as inflation has pushed up food prices.

– Decrease in donations –

“Before the pandemic, we managed to get by, now we have nothing,” says Silvana da Silva, 22, who made a living collecting recyclable waste from restaurants and shops in Sao Paulo.

But since all non-essential businesses are closed, she depends on food aid from the town hall to survive.

The demand is such that the municipality had to increase the number of daily meals distributed from 7,500 to 10,000.

Same problem in Rio, where Social Development Secretary Bruno Dauaire evokes an “extreme emergency”.

“It wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t really talk about hunger or misery here, but these problems are back,” he says.

The NGOs which are trying to replace the public authorities overwhelmed by the pandemic are, for their part, facing a “dramatic” drop in donations.

In 2020, Action for Citizenship distributed between 80,000 and 100,000 meals per month throughout Brazil, but that total has been divided by ten this year.

“We try to be where the public authorities are not, but unfortunately, they are practically nowhere,” laments Rodrigo Afonso.