How coronavirus is affecting Bolivia
12 August 2020
Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in South America, with nearly half of the population living below the poverty line.
Poor rural families who depend on farming can live harvest to harvest and are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition.
Now, small-scale farmers in remote areas and vulnerable people living in cities are dealing with the challenges of surviving both coronavirus and feeding their families. Nikki Evans, CAFOD’s Programme Officer for Bolivia, tells us how our experts and volunteers on the ground are reaching families vulnerable to hunger and coronavirus.
What was the situation in Bolivia before coronavirus hit?
In the Andean mountains farmers are struggling to grow food in a changing climate, from poor quality soil. Families are often unable to grow enough varied food for a good diet. As a result, many people, particularly children, are malnourished.
Family members are sometimes forced to leave to find work when failed rains and sudden hailstorms destroy entire harvests. But once living in cities, it can also be very difficult for these migrants to find regular or secure work.
Remote communities can be days away from hospitals and visiting them can also be time-consuming and expensive for people that need to work to survive.
How has the government responded to coronavirus?
Borders were quickly closed and the government enforced very strict quarantine measures.
Whilst the spread of the disease in some areas has been slow, the strict measures have caused great hardship. These measures have begun to be relaxed, but many areas are now seeing new outbreaks and spikes as the virus spreads.
In response to the spread of dangerous and misleading advice about coronavirus, the government outlawed the spreading of false information, but this law has been criticised for closing down freedom of speech.
The coronavirus arrived in Bolivia following months of civil unrest. Despite the quarantine and the risk of spreading the virus, there have been protests in cities against lockdown measures and calling for new elections.
What challenges are there to surviving lockdown and fighting coronavirus?
For the most vulnerable, the main problems in Bolivia are access to food, hygiene products and healthcare. The hospitals don’t have enough ventilators or PPE and some cannot manage isolation needs properly.
"Rural families in remote areas are producing vegetables thanks to CAFOD support but cannot travel to markets to sell them."
Nikki Evans, CAFOD’s Programme Officer for Bolivia
Rural families in remote areas have been producing vegetables thanks to CAFOD support, however during the quarantine they couldn’t sell their crops. Without access to the markets or the money they would have earned they have been unable to buy seeds or other essentials such as soap, flour, oil or meat.
Coronavirus has also reached overcrowded prisons and they are being managed by staff without PPE.
Vulnerable groups such as refuse collectors are continuing to work during the pandemic and are exposed to high risks as they collect refuse from infected households and hospitals without PPE.
How has CAFOD responded to coronavirus in Bolivia?
We have worked in Bolivia for 20 years, supporting remote communities. I’ve had updates from the remote communities that you support through regular monthly gifts, that families have been able to keep eating healthily because of the food they’ve been able to grow.
It gives me hope knowing that these families have the skills and resources they need to see them through these tough times.
We are also supporting the experienced staff and volunteers of local organisations working quickly to:
- Kit out a key health clinic in Vitichi with the vital supplies they are lacking and build an isolation area for waiting patients.
- Give food, seeds, soap and PPE to remote communities in the La Paz department so that they can continue to feed themselves and their families.
- Supply PPE to refuse collectors to help them stay safe.
- Provide technology and internet access to indigenous people in Chuquisaca and Potosi so that they can participate in online training and keep up to date about the virus and their safety.
You have also funded an emergency grant to the local Church to get food, soap and PPE to prisoners and people living on the streets.
Our network of local experts are broadcasting accurate health and prevention information in local languages to vulnerable communities. And once schools go back, they will provide materials to educate children on the importance of learning safely, which they can share with their parents.
What gives you hope?
Several things have given me much hope since the crisis hit Bolivia.
The local people that we support who carry out work with vulnerable communities have been so inspiring despite the risk they run of catching the virus. One person used her own savings to buy food for people without food in prisons during the quarantine. Others have created new methods to reach people during the quarantine no matter how difficult the challenge.
"Whenever the news of the day brings a sense of gloom, solidarity within the CAFOD family fills me with hope."
The concern for our work from supporters in England and Wales also gives me a huge boost. Whenever the news of the day brings a sense of gloom, solidarity within the CAFOD family fills me with hope.