Ed O’Connell reports on the situation in northern Lima

Three weeks ago, Fr. Ed (Lalo) O’Connell, formerly the PSG president who works as a priest in Lima’s cono norte, wrote about the situation facing ordinary people living in under-privileged parts of Lima. Here he offers an update taken from his personal newsletter to friends.

Lima will continue on lockdown until the 26 April. I feel it should be for even longer; we like the UK will only be reaching the peak by the end of April, if that. People are staying at home but when they go out, many people find it difficult to keep distance when shopping and often two are going out or more, so I am not certain that the social distancing will be as effective as it should be.

Normal life has been suspended. But how will the poor survive, as 70% of the population is in the informal sector, hand to mouth as it were. No work, no money! Now we are in the fifth week, there must be many going hungry.

The state has given the poorest families $100 as a lump sum, which was repeated in this second lockdown period, but not all have received the first amount, as it is difficult to administer such a program and many fall outside of those selected anyway.

New measures to distribute funding via regional administrations, provincial and district municipalities have been underway as from Thursday 26 March. How effective this approach has been is not clear yet. It depends on the capacity and previous social experience of those working in the municipalities. Some have done well in the distribution of food baskets.

The teachers of the Manuel Duato Special Needs School, for which I chair the board of governors, have set up set up virtual contact with the parents for work with the nearly 400 children. Though given their severity, it is more to make sure they have a routine in their day, reinforcing the hand washing and keeping distance, as well as taking exercise. The autistic children have special permission to go outside as they find confinement unbearable.

Warmi Huasi, a small NGO I work with, has one team that normally works in San Benito, a township on the northern side of Lima in the district of Carabayllo and the other team in the province of Paucar de Sara Sara, high up in the Andes mountains in the department of Ayacucho. We are finding out from the Ministry of Education at local level and from the municipalities in the two areas (our two main allies in our work in accompanying children and adolescents at risk) what their priorities are now; and predictably they are health, security and distribution of food stocks. The financial organizations that support our work from UK, Ireland and Australia, have given us flexibility in our plan of action for this year so that we are able to take into account these new priorities.

At the moment in San Benito, there are families with no money, as they live hand to mouth and there has been no work for the past four weeks, due to the lockdown. Some of these families fall outside of the help offered by the government, so are desperate. We are finding ways to help them.

As a rider to what he writes in his own newsletter, Ed adds that the virus is particularly present in areas such as Los Olivos, Comas and San Martín de Porres. But its impact is patchy, more in some places than others. He says that the decision as to who receives the 380 sol bono is fairly arbitrary, and that many receive nothing. He points out that the municipalities in the north of Lima are laying off workers or asking them to work voluntarily because the tax income they receive has dropped. The general atmosphere is one of tension and worry, with social distancing proving very hard to maintain. Food supplies are working well, he says; the problem is that many people have no money to buy food.