Uniting to save lives during the pandemic
1 April 2021
(c) Gabriel Borda
Protecting the environment and placing the welfare of people at the centre of development are key aims of our programme in Brazil. By deepening democracy and encouraging inclusive public debates, our partners are working to develop new ways to prevent violence, mediate conflict, and restore justice. We support efforts to reach Indigenous and other traditional communities across Brazil, as well as vulnerable communities living in marginalised areas of large cities.
In 2020, we supported efforts to fight against Covid-19, which compounded further the need for the efforts of our partners to help reduce violence and protect people’s rights. Activities of our partners include: producing compelling research and data; bringing the voices of the most affected by these dynamics into public debates and policy-making processes; and advocating for the implementation of people’s socio-environmental rights.
In both urban and rural regions, Brazil’s most vulnerable communities were impacted by the health, social, and economic consequences of the Covid-19 crisis. Our partners worked to protect people in urban favelas, as well as the territorial and environmental rights of vulnerable communities. They ensured that the voices of Indigenous communities were represented in policy-making processes, and that local communities received food and medicine during the crisis.
Despite social isolation measures, police violence in the favelas in Rio de Janeiro increased in the early days of the pandemic. Cecília Olliveira, executive director of Fogo Cruzado, said, “We were seeing escalating levels of state perpetrated violence that were preventing people from accessing food and basic services. We knew something had to be done.”
Fogo Cruzado united with a network of not-for-profit organisations to file a lawsuit demanding that the state government suspend police operations in favelas for the duration of the pandemic. Their request was granted by the Federal Supreme Court in May 2020, which determined that such operations should be held only in exceptional circumstances. Consequently, homicides perpetrated by the police in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro dropped by 70 per cent, and the number of incidents involving firearms fell by 40 per cent.
In parallel, our partners worked to ensure that communities had access to emergency relief and adequate health services. Uneafro implemented a community health programme called Agentes Populares de Saúde, which brings together emergency relief support with direct health assistance provision to Covid-19 patients in São Paulo.
Movimento dos Pimpadores launched a campaign that benefited more than 1,500 recyclable waste pickers with emergency basic income during the pandemic, and Habitat Para a Humanidade took part in an advocacy campaign to suspend the enforcement of eviction orders.
Indigenous peoples and protected territories
On 1 April, the first case of Covid-19 in an Indigenous village in the Amazon was confirmed and by November 2020, 161 Indigenous communities were affected by Covid-19, with nearly 40,000 confirmed cases and 877 deaths.
During this time, there were heightened levels of violence against forest dwellers and environmental defenders. The National Coordination of Indigenous People of Brazil (APIB) worked to protect Indigenous communities and territories. In June 2020, in response to a lawsuit filed by APIB and a network of partner organisations, the Federal Supreme Court obliged the federal administration to develop and implement effective policy measures to safeguard Indigenous villages from Covid-19. In addition, organisations such as the Coordination of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon Region and the Coordination of Indigenous Groups of the Amazon Basin ensured that the voices of Indigenous communities are represented in policy-making processes, and that they have access to food and medicine.
Our grant-making in Brazil seeks to deepen democracy and encourage inclusive public debates in pursuit of secure and sustainable communities, and the full protection of the rights of all Brazilians. To find out more about our strategy, please check out the Brazil page on our website.
 Research Group on New Illegalisms, the Federal Fluminense University in Rio de Janeiro, https://agenciabrasil.ebc.com.br/geral/noticia/2020-08/suspensao-de-operacoes-policiaisno-rio-reduz-mortes-em-mais-de-70 (Accessed 27-01-2021)