In Rio de Janeiro, trash collectors struggle to survive as city shuts down
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Deise Geraldine is one of scores of Rio de Janeiro trash collectors who usually make their living by scavenging bottles and cans left by restaurants and bars at the curb.
But with the coronavirus outbreak keeping consumers at home and shutting businesses, her cooperative of trash collectors has come a halt, and the members are struggling to put food on their tables.
“When will I run out of diapers and milk for my children?,” Geraldine asked from her home, which has a corrugated sheet for a roof and walls made of thin wood panels.
“Because for us, we can handle without things, but children can’t.”
Geraldine is a member of the Friends of the Environment Popular Cooperative (COOPAMA), a group of garbage collectors in Rio. It has almost 900 members who collect and sort the trash looking for items they can sell to recycling companies. Now, however, the COOPAMA facilities, once bustling, are empty.
Brazil has over 4,500 coronavirus cases, more than any other country in Latin America, and its federal and state authorities are in a bitter fight over how to contain the virus.
President Jair Bolsonaro does not believe in quarantines and has said that just as the disease can kill, so can hunger. Meanwhile, state authorities, including the Rio de Janeiro governor, have imposed quarantines in line with guidelines from international organizations.
But those restrictions have come at a cost for the most vulnerable workers.
“This week, the staff has nothing left, no money to buy their food and maintain their expenses,” said Luiz Carlos Fernandes, the cooperative’s president.
Jhonatan Ezequiel has been collecting trash for the cooperative for just four months. He is concerned about money, but health comes first.
“I am very afraid of something infecting my family and seeing my family die and not being able to do anything,” he said.
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