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In collaboration with the NGO Amigos do Bem (Friends of Good), Fundación MAPFRE helps to provide water and food to thousands of people suffering from hunger and thirst in the northeastern paramo of Brazil (Sertão Nordestino).

TEXT: SILVIA MARTINELLI PHOTOGRAPHS: AMIGOS DO BEM

Water scarcity is a centuries-old problem in Brazil’s northeastern paramo (Sertão Nordestino). Due to the typical drought conditions in this semi-arid region, hundreds of families suffer a lack of this natural resource.

People like Laiane, who lives in Sítio Cumbre, in the Pernambuco Sertão, only managed to get a little water for the family when it rained, thanks to the reservoirs. “The water was cloudy, we were drinking mud”, she recalls.

With a population of more than 57 million inhabitants spread over nine states, threequarters of the northeastern region of Brazil is occupied by the so-called Polígono das Secas (Drought Zone), an area comprising 1,300 towns that is characterised by severe drought, low rainfall and arid soils. Thousands of families live in often isolated villages, with no resources or in minimum subsistence conditions, in houses built with earth walls, with neither water nor food.

Since 1993, in an attempt to transform this situation, the NGO Amigos do Bem has been striving to combat hunger and poverty in Brazil’s northeastern paramo (Sertão Nordestino). This non-profit organisation, which started as a small group of friends led by businesswoman Alcione Albanesi, is today one of the largest social projects in Brazil, responsible for the regular care of 75,000 people belonging to 15,000 families living in 140 villages in the Sertão in the states of Alagoas, Ceará and Pernambuco.

“We know that water and food are fundamental resources for families to be able to survive and flourish. Malnourished children do not learn and workers who have nothing to eat do not have the strength to do their jobs. Our project allowed us, by living closely with the families, to get to know their real needs and act decisively to provide them with basic necessities and give them back their dignity”, says Alcione Albanesi, founder and president of Amigos do Bem.

To raise public awareness of the problems of this vulnerable population, the organization runs free welfare programs aimed at eradicating poverty, strengthening emotional ties, helping children, adolescents and adults become self-reliant, and encouraging access to education and integration into the labor market.

Poverty is combated on the basis of a global transformation model structured around five crucial elements: education, employment and income, health, housing, and access to water.

Water: the region’s gold

To help combat the drought and reduce the suffering of thousands of families affected by a lack of access to drinking water, Amigos do Bem drills artesian wells, builds water tanks, and sends tanker trucks to the most remote communities so that thousands of people do not have to travel the many kilometers they currently do in search of water.

Interested in helping to change this situation, Fundación MAPFRE initiated a partnership with Amigos do Bem to construct three artesian wells capable of supplying the local populations living in this region.

The funds will be used to drill, install and maintain three solar-powered artesian wells to supply the inhabitants of the villages of Lagunas de Braúna and Coité, located in the Inajá region, in Pernambuco state.

About 500 people will be served directly (and another 2,500 indirectly) with water from these wells, which will together provide 64.8 million liters each year. After the assembly and electrical connection stages, at least two wells are expected to be operational by the first quarter of 2022.

Cuando la sequía y la miseria son el día a día

COVID and the exacerbation of hunger

In addition to installing artesian wells, the partnership between Fundação MAPFRE and Amigos do Bem includes support for actions to combat hunger among the families residing in the Sertão Nordestino region, who have been affected by the socioeconomic crisis resulting from the pandemic.

According to the UN (United Nations), in 2020 world hunger increased significantly as a consequence of COVID-19. The economic impact of the pandemic was the second major cause of the global hunger crisis, intensifying poverty and exposing growing inequality around the world. In line with a report presented in July this year by the NGO Oxfam Brazil, it is estimated that the number of people living in extreme poverty will reach 745 million by the end of 2021, 100 million people more than at the beginning of the pandemic.

With a population of more than 57 million inhabitants distributed across nine states, three quarters of the northeastern region of Brazil is occupied by the so-called Polígono das Secas (Drought Zone)

In Brazil, the spread of the new coronavirus made economic and social inequalities even more pronounced and triggered widespread hunger among millions of people in the country, mainly in the northeastern region, where poverty and inequality became even worse.

Data published by the Brazilian Food and Nutritional Sovereignty and Security Research Network show that, in 2020, of the 19 million people suffering from hunger in Brazil, 7.7 million were in the northeast of the country. That means that one in seven households suffers hunger. In terms of water scarcity, in the rural areas of the northeast, almost half of the population does not have a drinking water supply. Of those households with no water supply for food production and animal husbandry, hunger affects around 44%.

“Hunger and food and nutritional insecurity are profound expressions of inequality in our country. A hungry society is a broken society, incapable of prosperity. One of the defining characteristics of an organization is its ability to identify social and economic problems that, in some way, impact on the development of society as a whole. Thanks to Fundación MAPFRE, we remain steadfast in our commitment to making the world a more egalitarian and humane place”, said Fátima Lima, Fundación MAPFRE’s representative in Brazil.

With 27 years of experience in social development programs in the northeastern region of Brazil, focused on eradicating poverty and hunger, Amigos do Bem used part of the resources allocated by Fundación MAPFRE for the COVID-19 Emergency Action Plan, promoting actions able to mitigate the effects of the pandemic in this region, the poorest in the country.

The project includes the monthly distribution, over an entire year, of 4,700 basic baskets each containing 15 kg of food for families in the arid zones of the states of Alagoas, Ceará and Pernambuco. It is expected to reach up to 23,500 people each month and will distribute 846,000 kilos of food.

The first baskets were delivered at the end of October in the state of Alagoas, where 4,986 families benefited, 25,000 people received food, 74,790 kg of food was distributed and four municipalities and 28 towns received this aid.

With the food received, Josefa, an inhabitant of Sítio Mocó 2, in the Sertão Pernambucano region and who, since childhood, has been used to eating just once every three days, remembers: “When the pandemic struck, it became even more difficult, people ate whatever they could find. The little ones were asking for food and we had no way to give them any. Now, with this help, we are able to liv e a little more calmly.”

Cuando la sequía y la miseria son el día a día