Fundación MAPFRE is increasing its aid budget for Latin America by ten million euros in order to implement nearly 50 projects in 18 countries and thus help combat the economic havoc wreaked by COVID-19.
TEXTO: RAMÓN OLIVER IMAGES: FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE, ISTOCK
The effects of COVID-19 are proving truly devastating worldwide, and not just on the health front. According to estimates by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 2020 closed with the terrible figure of 231 million people (37.3 percent of the population) living in poverty, with a further 96 million (15.5 percent) in extreme poverty throughout Latin America.
On the economic front, it went from bad to worse for this area of the planet, which was already experiencing difficulties before the pandemic hit. A situation that this health emergency only exacerbated. According to ECLAC’s figures, the region’s economy contracted by 9.1 percent in 2020, with GDP falling by 5.3 percent and unemployment rising by 3.4 percentage points. Moreover, the agency warns, forecasts point to a slower recovery than in previous crises.
Faced with a health, social and economic disaster on this scale, all aid is welcome. Governments, international agencies, the third sector, and both public and private institutions need to do their best to combat “the pandemic within the pandemic”. The main danger? An increase in inequality that could leave a high percentage of the population in this part of the world in a vulnerable situation, on the verge of social exclusion.
Fundación MAPFRE is fully engaged in dealing with this emergency situation and has just mobilized an extraordinary provision of ten million euros to combat poverty and inequality in the LATAM countries. This funding is the latest installment in its COVID-19 aid package which, since March last year, has injected a total of 45 million euros into protecting the most vulnerable in 27 countries around the world. “No pandemic will cause us to give up on our firm commitment to ensuring social progress. We want to help save every possible life, while protecting the most socially vulnerable and those fighting this coronavirus on the front line,” declared Antonio Huertas, president of Fundación MAPFRE.
With this extraordinary aid package for Latin America, Fundación MAPFRE wishes to play its part in running a total of 55 projects at this moment in time, which will help over 200,000 people in 18 countries. An ambitious plan of enormous logistical complexity, in which our Foundation will not be acting alone. It can rely on the indispensable participation of its 5,000 volunteers on the continent, as well as the collaboration of 174 entities such as CESAL, Doctors of the World, or the Rede Mulher Empreendedora Institute.
Covering basic food needs and preventing malnutrition, while focusing primarily on the child population, is one of the most urgent, top-priority objectives of this plan. We have already begun distributing the Fundación MAPFRE Food Box in countries such as Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and Peru. This consists of a nutritional supplement that does not require refrigeration and can guarantee the essential levels of nutrients for the under-10s. In addition, thanks to the educational materials for children it contains, the box offers them the possibility of learning as they play.
Other projects aimed at ensuring minimum food levels include a contribution to the Mexican Food Bank of 25,000 food packages for needy families, or an initiative to distribute food to small farmers in Peru, including a fortified cookie to offset child malnutrition. In addition, mothers and teachers in the region will receive health and nutrition training.
Women are a particularly vulnerable group in this emergency context. With precarious employability levels, ECLAC warns that their exposure to unemployment and social neglect is significantly greater than that of their male counterparts. Moreover, the lockdown measures increased the burden of unpaid domestic work for women, as well as job uncertainty in professions such as those in the domestic workers sector.
One of Fundación MAPFRE’s projects precisely aims to further the employability, training and entrepreneurship opportunities of women in the Latin American countries. Some 8,500 Brazilian and 2,700 Mexican women will be receiving entrepreneurship training and help to start up their own projects. The goal of these measures is to offer these people technical training, while providing them with financial support to cover the basic needs of their families. And, what is nearly more important, help them become self-sufficient and bolster their self-esteem.
Poverty, inequality and social exclusion are just some of the side effects of the healthcare emergency
Those with disabilities form another extremely vulnerable segment. One of the top-priority objectives for Fundación MAPFRE in 2021 is the integration of those with any kind of disability into the labor market. Colombia, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and eight other countries will host programs offering training and work experience in companies, within a plan launched jointly with the ONCE Foundation in Latin America. Other interesting initiatives in this field have already begun in Uruguay, such as imparting a series of productive vegetable garden, cooking and baking workshops. Uruguay will also be the site of a series of socialization spaces for children and adults with disabilities. This project seeks to guarantee the rights of these people and has been developed in collaboration with Asociación Civil Mariposas.
Digitization and Employment Training
Boosting the employability of the population that finds it hardest to gain access to the labor market is another cornerstone of the plan. Fundación MAPFRE has initiated projects in several countries with the central theme of employability and digitization to help their economies recover. Projects such as the installation of free Internet access points in Brazil or providing cooking and basic financial education training programs to women in Chile who have set up small soup kitchens. Training is also a central feature of an education project for accident prevention in the event of natural disasters and COVID-19 self-protection hygiene measures in 35 rural schools in Nicaragua.
The scarcity of resources to deal with the pandemic only exacerbates other related problems. This lack of medical supplies is one of the most pressing challenges for Latin American countries. In an attempt to mitigate these shortcomings, Fundación MAPFRE acquired significant batches of healthcare material to be distributed around the region. Honduras, for example, will be receiving medical supplies worth 120,000 euros and 12 ICU beds are to be installed in the country’s leading public hospital – the Hospital Escuela – with capacity to care for an average of 150 patients a month. Other beneficiaries of this aid are Costa Rica, Peru and Venezuela, with projects ranging from the purchase of rehabilitation equipment for patients with sequelae to the supply of basic medicines or personal care and healthcare material for senior citizens.