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Food insecurity worsens in Argentina due to the pandemic

At the beginning of the year, when the pandemic was a distant news in Argentina, 350 people came every day to the dining room The short ones to receive a box for lunch. At this time, the social organization, located in the Partido de Tigre, province of Buenos Aires, receives more than 600 people. “People who had never asked for help from a soup kitchen began to come. Due to the pandemic, they were left without work or their hours were reduced and many people do not come with their income to buy food. They approached me with shame and told me that when work was reactivated they were not going to ask for more food assistance, ”says Cristina Gerez, General Coordinator of the institution.

The increase in demand in Los Bajitos is not an isolated case. In fact, the Argentine government is assisting 11,200,000 people with food due to the impact of the coronavirus on the economy. Before the pandemic, eight million required help. In these months, 85,000 million Argentine pesos (926 million euros, approximately) were invested in food policies, concentrated in dining rooms and in the Alimentar Card, which was the first instrument of the Argentine Plan against hunger, promoted by the Government.

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This latest comprehensive food supplement policy for the most vulnerable sectors was inaugurated at the beginning of the year and is aimed at mothers of boys and girls up to six years old who receive Universal Child Allowance (AUH), pregnant from the three months they receive the Pregnancy Allowance; and people with disabilities who receive AUH. The cards are 4,000 Argentine pesos (43 euros) for mothers with one child and 6,000 Argentine pesos (65 euros) for those with two or more children. The National Director of Food Security of the Ministry of Social Development, Karina Yarochevski, confirms that the Alimentar Card reached 1.5 million holders and reached 2.8 million children.

Victoria Tolosa Paz, head of the National Council for the Coordination of Social Policies, points out that this year there was an unprecedented transfer of resources: “Social assistance in times of pandemic was very important in order to cushion the impact. The first months we focus on the urgent, that the plate of food is. Then, we are going to work on what the plate contains ”.

“It is evident that the food issue before the pandemic was already complex”, recognizes Sebastián Waisgrais, specialist in Social Inclusion and Monitoring at Unicef. “In fact, the Alimentar Card aimed to reduce one of the impacts of poverty in Argentina, which it’s food insecurity, ”he says. And he adds a piece of information: 8.3 million girls and boys are in a situation of monetary poverty, that is, 62.9% of the total child and adolescent population. And 2.4 million are in extreme poverty.

About 8.3 million girls and boys are in a situation of monetary poverty, that is, 62.9% of the total child and adolescent population. And 2.4 million are in extreme poverty

The increase in demand for food is also confirmed by the Buenos Aires Food Bankas it was revealed that product delivery grew by 66%. “When social, preventive and compulsory isolation was decreed in March, we had to implement an emergency procedure to register new organizations. This means that when a soup kitchen or community organization asked us for help, we contacted each other to see their needs. We also had to reorganize the logistics of food delivery. Before, organizations came to the Bank to collect donations. We received between 40 and 45 organizations per day. With the health crisis we had to see how to reach the institutions and prevent them from gathering in the warehouse, ”says Marisa Giráldez, director of the Food Bank of Buenos Aires.

In March, this entity distributed 625 tons of food and in the last months 1,000 tons. Linked institutions are reaching 570,000 people, while previously they served 168,000 people. “The community centers are operating in a systemic way. They bring food, not only to the children, but to the entire family, ”says Giráldez.

At survey of the Food Bank of Buenos Aires, it was observed that of the organizations that maintain the provision of food, 70% had to implement the delivery of groceries or bags. In other words, the possibility of eating in the dining room was suspended to prevent many people from gathering.

In the case of Los Bajitos, at six in the morning the volunteers begin to arrive at the dining room to cook. Starting at 11.30, families start to come looking for their food. “When they come to get food, they have to bring a container so that we can use it the next day and thus give them a new ration,” says Gerez. Around three in the afternoon the delivery is finished.

“We have fewer volunteers than before because some are large and because of the pandemic I asked them to stay at home. Due to the increase in demand, we had to buy a new 100-liter pot and a stove because we could not supply it. We had six burners, but they weren’t enough. The volunteers began to come an hour earlier to arrive with everyone’s food, ”says Gerez.

The reference of Los Bajitos worries that they had to remove fruit and fish from the menu because they did not have enough resources for so many people. He explains: “Before we tried to give it once a month. But being so many, we can’t get out of the noodles, polenta, rice and sauce. It costs a lot to maintain the nutritional level. We use basic vegetables for sauces and sometimes we make vegetable soup. The State donates food to us once a month, but it is not enough. Between the polenta, lentils, noodles and rice, which they provide us, we fix ourselves for a week. They send 130 kilos of rice and for a single meal we use 70 kilos. We also have private donors and a company that helps us ”.

Before we tried to give fish and fruit once a month. But being so many, we can’t get out of the noodles, polenta, rice and sauce. It costs a lot to maintain the nutritional level

For Waisgrais, Argentina’s food emergency has to do largely with the quality of food. “Sugar, carbohydrates, ultra-processed and dry foods are consumed in excess. In general, it costs a lot for the bags and viands to have fresh food, meats, vegetables and legumes. We have been working with other social organizations such as Cáritas and La Poderosa to introduce quality food into donations. Until now, the nutritional needs of the youngest children have not been considered and they end up eating from the same pot as adults ”, he points out. According to data from the Second National Survey of Nutrition and Health (ENNyS2), 41.1% of boys and adolescents between 5 and 17 years old are overweight and obese in Argentina.

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