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And I... Where do I confine myself now?


Covid-19: Olivier Longue's Editorial

In an unprecedented situation, a third of the world's population has been ordered to confine themselves; but, the first thing you need in order to do it is ... a house. Possibly water, electricity, a grocery store not too far away and a salary at the end of the month or some savings. Something doesn't add up. Confining yourself is an inaccessible luxury for millions of people in the world; especially when you don't even have a roof to protect yourself from the sky or a door to close.

Through my work in Africa, Asia and America, I know of many, many women, men and children who will not be able to confine themselves and create the necessary social distance so that the virus does not prevail. In these countries, the informal economy, these survival micro-businesses, can only be carried out on the street. In Manila, a vibrant city, thousands of people nudge to sell bags of water or soda to motorists who stop for a few seconds at traffic lights. When they finish their day they will go back to sleep in a suburb of the city, crossed by gray waters where they splash their tired and bare feet. Aluminum sheets, two or three cartons are their only means of seclusion.

In Bogota, thousands of Venezuelan migrants continue to live under bridges or crowded in open fields. The closure of the official border is not going to prevent them from arriving because at this point there is plenty of evidence that hunger knows no borders. The only difference will be that by crossing illegal trails they will not have body temperature controls. In many countries, more than half of the population depends on the informal economy; it will be basically impossible to close the city by decree and prohibit the sale of arepas, tamales or soap. In Aarsal, Lebanon, the precarious brick structures that some Syrian refugees built after eight years of flight were demolished last summer as considered illegal. Refugees continue to live in informal settlements, with families of six, seven or eight members sharing the main "room" of the plastics store, converted into a bedroom at the end of the day. It will not only be difficult to confine oneself in the cities. In the villages of Selibaby, in Mauritania, how are we going to convince women to stop searching for water together when being in a group was their only protection when travelling five kilometers to the fountain? How will the millet and barley harvest be carried out if it is not in a group, mobilizing community solidarity to compensate for the lack of technology?

This pandemic already has outbreaks in Africa, Asia, or Latin America. In the past few days, the WHO has confirmed that no country has escaped COVID19. Here we must be patient, disciplined so that the wave of contagion breaks. Our frustration and concern about what will happen tomorrow is immense. Nonetheless, in areas where there are neither places for confinement, nor any other alternative to trading at street level, helplessness is coupled with terror in the face of inexorable drama.

All efforts are going to be few to limit contagion, care for the sick and begin to alleviate the socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic. If this crisis should be of any use, it is to understand that the world today is more vulnerable and also smaller than ever. Humanity is our home. It has a fragile roof and, against the virus, it has neither a door nor walls. For this reason, helping those who have the least today is not just solidarity, it is survival. If we lose our house today, where will we confine ourselves tomorrow?

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