• Gustavo Driau

Hard poverty in Argentina: Companion church and World Hunger response.

On March 31, 2021, the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INDEC) of Argentina published its annual report on poverty.

Resistencia and its surroundings have the highest poverty rate in the country and the highest indigence rate.

For INDEC, a household is considered poor if its income (that is, the sum of the income received by all household members) is less than the Poverty Line.

A household is considered indigent when its income is not enough to satisfy its food needs. The monetary value of this basket corresponds to the Indigence Line.

53.6% of the population of Resistencia that is, 414,823 people, are poor.

The rate of productive activity is very low; many people subsist on social programs, more than 30% of the citizens receive support from the state, but it is not enough to cover the basic food basket.

In Resistencia, 30% of the inhabitants, 150 thousand people, live in settlements without urban services or infrastructure. More than 50% of its active workers are in the informal sector.

In addition to structural poverty, there is extreme poverty, which hits large families, generally headed by women, the hardest.

As in the whole country, the most affected in Chaco are children because their fundamental rights to food, education, and health are obstructed and violated.

Sixty-six percent of children in Chaco consume less than the three daily portions of dairy products recommended as optimal, even though they have a state support card to buy food, while 61% eat only one fruit a day or none at all.

Before the pandemic, Resistencia had an active life; it was a city full of cultural and social activities and university students. Today almost everything is closed, and the students are not there. Economic activity is minor.

In the downtown area with the most commercial activity, there are 35% of empty stores. The reconversion of some businesses is also a constant. Where there used to be a flower shop or a bookstore, today there are food stores.

In the neighborhoods, things are even worse because the capital of Chaco has gained space to the lagoons and marshes and coexists with inland streams, tributaries of the Paraná River. There are some yards attached to the small dams trying to defend against the cyclical floods. And with open-air dumps that denounce the lack of services, but also the deterioration of socio-environmental conditions.

Social organizations are a fundamental factor for the most vulnerable sectors. Amid the pandemic, their support is crucial; without their help, it would not have been possible to alleviate this situation we are going through without the popular pots.

According to official data, between October 2019 and the same month of 2020, there was a 43% increase in the number of neighbors attending community kitchens and soup kitchens, both in the capital and in the province's interior.

The situation of high poverty also impacts the rest of society. A city where one out of every two people is poor is a city that is stagnant and where there is no market opportunities to explore its potential.

The companion Church in Argentina, IELU, is implementing a World Hunger program addressing childhood malnutrition.

Food: the IELU project, with the support of the World Hunger Campaign, provides food for 180 children. Still, due to the Covid-19 pandemic (which caused havoc in the neighborhood's economic situation), more and more children, young people, and many adults are coming to receive the snack, so it was necessary to extend the delivery of meals for 318 children.

This expansion was made possible with food provided by the provincial government and the United Nations.

Volunteers: women volunteers from the community prepare the meals. They receive a weekly bag of goods as a reward for their work.

COVID Prevention and Care: Families and people linked to the project and people have become ill with COVID; we have worked on health care and prevention, so we have organized the making of masks for children and the community's adults.

Gender-based violence is very high in the Juan Bautista Alberdi community, with many deaths registered every year. One action of memory and advocacy has been to install a red bench in the gallery of the Congregation. The purpose is to hold up the memory of the women who were murdered by those who said they "loved them."

Advocacy: Angelina Cáceres, a thirteen-year-old girl, disappeared on December 23, 2018, but on January 25, she was found lifeless in some hills near Barrio Juan Bautista Alberdi, where the Maria Magdalena Lutheran Congregation is located and where the project operates. The project accompanied Angelina Cáceres's relatives' in their claim for justice. Congregational leaders participated in the marches carried out (with the corresponding protocols). With these public advocacy actions, the judge was able to order the trial to begin.

Stewardship: we continue making sets of sheets and towels for sale to raise funds for the place's maintenance.

Resources continue to be sought for the woven wire perimeter fence and constructing the halfway house [for women who suffer gender violence] together with other organizations.

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