Six Coronavirus Realities in the Favelas: From Lack of Information to Lack of Water #VoicesFromSocialMedia

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This article is part of RioOnWatch’s #VoicesFromSocialMedia series, which compiles perspectives posted on social media by favela residents and activists about events and societal themes that arise. This is the second article in what will be a spotlighted issue on RioOnWatch for the foreseeable future: the new coronavirus as it impacts Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.

Favela residents from Rio de Janeiro and all around Brazil are communicating spontaneously and at great speeds, organizing themselves through social media under the hashtag #COVID19NasFavelas (COVID-19 in the Favelas) to share important information regarding coronavirus and its impact on the favelas. 

Even with the virus having received only a few weeks of attention in Brazil, six themes have emerged in the debates regarding the unique reality of the virus in relation to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil at large:

“My biggest worry about the coronavirus in Brazil is the favelas. Seriously, people! You all don’t have a realistic notion of how people who live in the favelas could suffer much more with all of this.”

1. Coronavirus is Not a Disease of the Elite

Contrary to the initial perception that this virus disproportionately affects the elite (because of its having spread to Brazilians through contact with Europeans), from the moment that the virus began to spread locally, it has become clear that the most vulnerable are those who have the least access to preventative measures and treatments: 

“I was in a bubble thinking that only the elite got the virus, but we know where this will weigh heavily, who won’t be able to get assistance, tests, treatment. It’s us!!!!”

“I was also spreading the idea that coronavirus was only affecting the elite, our mistake. We know which sector of society is most vulnerable to death because of this virus. At this moment, disseminating information is very important.”

“The majority of the discussion about corona prevention is elitist and is happening as if the majority of the population were middle class, right? Beyond ‘send your maid home 🙏,’ I’ve seen few people take into consideration the experiences of the periphery and of the poor population.

Everybody is only saying ‘stop having coronavirus!’ But I want to see them dialogue with those who are able to live in the worst conditions imaginable and are still alive today. How are you going to lecture about prevention to those who live on the edge of a sewage channel? 🤔”

2. A Lack of Factual and Accessible Information

This lack of information that the prior tweets mentioned was noted by the Coletivo Papo Reto community media collective in Complexo do Alemão. In this video, the group highlights the stories of three residents: 

“Hey everybody, check this out, directly from Complexo de Alemão.”

“Residents complain about the lack of clear information about #COVID19”

One user responded to the tweet that people have to watch TV to access information given by doctors on news programs. Beyond serving as a unique information source which is possibly partial, Raull Santiago responds honestly: “You have to have a television, so that you can watch Globo and hear the doctors!” 

The information that is being transmitted by residents via social media in order to bridge this gap ranges from strategies to protect themselves to critiques of the neglect by public authorities and the ignorance of the reality of favelas by those who insist on hand sanitizer, masks, and isolation as the primary solutions to the crisis.

3. Inequality Affects Prevention

“#COVID19NasFavelas | IN SHORT:

The three main tips to avoid exposure and proliferation don’t work for us.

Always wash your hands? (Constant lack of water). Use hand sanitizer (lack of money for that). Quarantine/isolation (houses with two or three rooms for six people?)


“And this really applies to the hand sanitizer situation. Beyond the inhumane actions of people that are dramatically increasing the price of the product, even at its normal price, it’s an extra cost, unforeseen, and that needs replacing. This is an unequal country and this makes a big impact (+)

Quarantine is impossible here. Look at this photo from my window. It’s wall next to wall, there are houses with two, three rooms with six people living there. What to do? What is the path? How do we follow these prevention tips? (+)”

“Without wanting to racialize, but racializing already, just how unsafe can it be for a black person walking with a face mask in a city that already incriminates you for wearing a hat?”

Tweets written by Santiago, an activist and communicator from Complexo do Alemão, raise an important debate regarding inequality. How do you sterilize your hands if the government will not guarantee a constant supply of water, and if sanitizer is expensive and in low stock because it was hoarded? How do you isolate if the homes of favela residents frequently shelter many people in a small space, sometimes with little air circulation, and with the majority of workers without the option of staying home without being fired or without a guaranteed income? How do you stock up on food when salaries are low and savings hard to accumulate? 

“The way these strategies and warnings are being shared, those of us from favelas, from the periphery, black youth, we are once again being excluded, even during a pandemic,” Santiago continued the following tweet. “So, how do we isolate ourselves without income? Without a guarantee of meals for our families.” Another user agreed: “Even preventing the spread of this disease is a privilege.” 

Water has been one of the primary concerns raised by favela activists:

“‘There’s no water in the favelas to wash your hands? BUY IT!’

I can’t even buy water to drink, even when [the water coming out of the tap was] infected and tastes like mud. I’m going to buy water to wash my hands?

Having water in the favela to wash your hands is a luxury.

You have no idea about our reality!”

“Many residents of Complexo do Alemão are complaining that they don’t have a water supply and because of this, they aren’t able to protect themselves against the new coronavirus. There is no hand sanitizer in pharmacies or supermarkets.”

“Here at home, like on many days, for water this is the only way! We filled up the containers, the tap is already out!”

“Our worries are at an extreme level in the favelas. We have to worry about violent State [human rights] violations, we have to worry about the lack of water that affects us in all ways, and for this pandemic our worry is about basic daily hygiene.”

4. Quarantine as a Solution?

Beyond the difficulty involved in establishing a level of hygiene sufficient to avoid spreading the virus, another major obstacle that favela residents face, which is mentioned frequently on social media, is that of quarantining. It is a privilege to have a job that can be done remotely, which demands a strong Internet connection. And this is without mentioning the fact that for many employers, failing to show up physically means failing to complete your work and receive payment, often leading to being fired. This is the case for informal and self-employed workers, the majority of those in favelas and the periphery, as discussed by Santiago and Fransérgio Goulart, from Forum Grita Baixada

“There won’t be big advances in Brazil, in the event that #Covid19 proliferates as predicted and #COVID19NasFavelas is not a central theme of attention. Today we already lack water for hygiene and prevention, tomorrow, food for the possible quarantine. It’s time to act NOW, or it will be too late!

Home offices don’t exist for day laborers, market workers, informal trash collectors, and so many other humble people whose daily jobs are in the streets, and that’s where their sustenance comes from. The cautions about #Covid19 should reflect these realities and think about how to strengthen them.”

“Some inquiries in the face of the construction of Capitalism/Coronavirus Panic:

  1. Who is able to stay home from work?
  2. Will business owners and bosses give time off to workers?
  3. Will the supervia, metro, and bus companies have minute by minute service in order to have emptier transport?

Continue to wash your hands and use hand sanitizer, if panic settles in, that will be the worst factor.”

Beyond this, the suspension of classes in schools means that families need to care for their children in the house, which often involves foregoing work (when they cannot take their kids with them), thus resulting in a significant weight on the family’s income, since it is also necessary for families to provide meals which would otherwise be provided in school. 

“It’s known that, as A+B that – without research, without universities, without the SUS [Sistema Único de Saúde, Brazil’s public healthcare system] and without a PUBLIC SYSTEM working for the good of the PUBLIC there is little chance for fighting this, just like other social epidemics.

The contagion alert says a lot about the economic situation of the poorest populations, many families don’t have a way to organize a routine that takes into account children without classes, for example. There are others still that work informally…”

It also means more people in houses, as already mentioned, with few rooms and little space. This results in a restlessness among children and adolescents that they would address by going out to play in the streets, as Edu Carvalho and Camila Santos show. Carvalho is a communicator from Rocinha, and Santos is a housing rights activist and victim of evictions in Alemão: 

“Many mothers from favelas are domestic workers and often can’t bring their children to work. The children, when they aren’t at home alone, hang in the street and end up going to the beach (there’s blazing sun here in Rio) and they go to cybercafes + crowded houses, without ventilation.”

“I want tips for isolation for those who live in wood shacks. Tips for families with 9, 10, 11…. people living in 3 rooms. What is plan B for those who live in the favelas?”

Faced with this scenario, many have been requesting individual responsibility from those who have the security of maintaining their salaries without going to work, largely in the form of paid time off for daily workers and domestic workers:

“Send your day laborers home and PAY them!

It always falls on us…

For those of you who have professionals in your home such as: cleaners, maids, nannies, and/or cooks, and you were sent home from your work and you continue to receive your salary normally, pay the full salary to these workers and let them go home as well, so that they can also have the right to protect themselves.

Don’t be a jerk!”

“Take advantage of the isolation to clean your house! #sendyourmaidhome #StayTheHellatHome #coronavirusinbrazil #CoronaWithoutFakeNews #COVID19NasFavelas #covid19″

Others argue that this does not cover all workers and does not solve the problem. They say that it is the State’s responsibility to subsidize the salary of these vulnerable employees (which is already happening in Peru): 

“The contagion alert says a lot about the economic situation of the poorest populations, many families don’t have a way to organize a routine that takes into account children without classes, for example. There are others still that work informally…

Governments should think, starting now, of an efficient plan for the poorest population. Freeing up credit and leaving even more debtors than we already have does not really help. There is still the hypothesis that quarantine only applies to some.”

“Let’s start discussing a universal basic income?

Thinking about this is being supportive, responsible and consistent with sex workers, domestic workers, the self-employed….

Quarantine is a privilege that can’t be utilized by everybody.

How will these workers sustain themselves during this crisis?”

5. The Crisis Deepens Necropolitics Directed at Favelas

In addition to all of the neglect and lack of information, the precarity of sanitation, water supply, and health services—necropolitical actions, in which the State decides, every day, who lives and who dies in our society—the residents of favelas continue to be subjected to higher rates of tuberculosis and pneumonia than the rest of the city, in addition to police operations and evictions by the State. All of these issues only deepen the coronavirus crisis.

“How can the camelô [informal vendor] not work? If he depends on the train, bus, metro, and beach, there will be 15 or more days without work? And what about food? Will the bills suddenly stop? Will they pay themselves? Will there still be operations to deal with during this critical moment?”

A note from the Brazilian Institute of Urban Law, the Brazilian Institute of Architects, and the National Federation of Architects and Urban Planners regarding the urgency of suspending evictions is circulating. Forced removal is a situation that leaves favela residents even more exposed to the virus, and efforts to suspend removals are already underway in other countries

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, these three organs signed a note, taking into consideration the urgency of the reduction of the speed of transmission and the specific living conditions and social inequalities that this population experiences.

It is urgent to indefinitely suspend the completion of repossession, eviction, and removal orders of any nature, aiming to avoid the aggravation of the situation of being exposed to the virus.”

“Our housing problems portray inequality: luxury and protected comfort, while poor housing lacks adequate infrastructure and ventilation, serving as vectors of viral transmission. Evictions aggravate this situation further. We are with @ibdu_oficial, @IAB_Brasil and @FNAIMPRENSA: zero evictions!” 

Police violence, which is already commonplace in favelas, now may gain new justifications, as highlighted by the following tweet in relation to a mass escape during a prison rebellion in São Paulo. The escape, which likely occurred in reaction to the suspension of temporary exits due to the coronavirus, could be used to justify the extermination, already in full force, of black youth: 

“Black men in São Paulo, be careful!

Please, be very careful out in the street.

With the mass escape of prisoners and with the police that we have, any stop could be a motive to shoot to kill (as if they needed reasons, but they will use this). Be careful, brother!

Be careful, seriously.”

6. Alternative Communication is Essential

In addition to these complaints, the activists and communicators highlighted here are using social media to organize reliable information and share strategies for mobilization and disease prevention. The rapid spread of the virus demands dynamic communication, which is aided by the strategic use of social media. 

An example of prevention strategies being shared is this thread of tweets by an independent communication collective in the Maré favelas, AMaréVê, and the work being done in Morro dos Macacos favela as described by Beatriz Antunes:

“-PROTECT YOUR ELDERS: we know that they are one of the most susceptible risk groups, so keep them at home!

-WITH CROWDS: Leave going out to dance for later. Pay your bills online or try to renegotiate with the bank. If you have to go to work in the next days avoid even more exposure. Only leave home if it’s really necessary (think 2x before)!”


Put links here about what we need to know about #COVID2019, but try to make sure that what you share isn’t fake!

Place action strategies about #COVID19NasFavelas here please. #coronavirusbrazil”

“Brother, we are working with mothers from Macacos, as we can’t be with them and the kids, through WhatsApp. We are sending information, answering questions, and together we are trying to find ways to prevent within the community’s reality.”

In an effort to combat the lack of information, and even the presence of inaccurate information, Coletivo Papo Reto did an exemplary job of verifying the truthfulness of rumors that are circulating about the virus. The NGO Redes da Maré (Maré Development Networks), created a space to respond to residents’ questions about the subject:

“Good morning everybody. Let’s stay alert about what information about #COVID2019 is fake? #COVID19NasFavelas”

“For you who live in the favela, leave your comments and questions about coronavirus. This content will be used to inform and clarify information for the population of the favela.” 

To keep up with #VoicesFromSocialMedia and what favela communicators say about coronavirus, check out RioOnWatch’s new Twitter list.

“WE URGENTLY need journalism that prioritizes information for FAVELAS AND PERIPHERIES, as we know that the majority of the population lives in these areas. Our PRINCIPAL problem is the lack of water. Follow along at #COVID19NasFavelas. Follow favela profiles! Tag them here!”


We, COMMUNICATORS from various places in Brazil, have united to pass along all of the necessary information about #coronavirus for the population who lives in favelas or peripheries. We need COMMUNICATORS from the North and Northeast regions to join us in this mission 📢”

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