Covid spreads poverty and famine in Thailand

Covid spreads poverty and famine in Thailand

Residents of a poor Bangkok neighborhood await food aid distribution on May 1, 2020.

Thousands of people, stranded and deprived of income, have to rely on food aid distributions and say they will do anything to survive.

The scene has become all too familiar in Bangkok. Every afternoon, in the historic district of Rattanakosin, long lines of masked figures wait, under a blazing sun, for the truck to unload. It is two o’clock, it is over 40 degrees, the volunteers are in a hurry, to start distributing aid as quickly as possible. In the plastic bags, a packet of crisps, a sachet of sticky rice, a carton of milk, a bottle of water. Two police officers ensure that everything is going on calmly and encourage – in vain – through a loudspeaker to respect the safety distances.

Many wear caps. Everyone lowered their heads, out of shame and for fear of recognizing friends or neighbors in the crowd of the needy. “Every day we see hundreds of additional people arriving, says one of the volunteers. Right now, the modest Thai people are really hungry. ”

These are not regulars of begging, but workers in the informal sector, often linked to tourism: taxi drivers, street vendors, hotel staff… In Pattaya, a seaside town living mainly from tourism, a free distribution of breakfasts created a crowd of several thousand people from 4 am a few days ago.

Mat and curfew

Jay, a young educated and English-speaking musician, who worked in a guest house on the famous Khao San Street, which identifies travelers in backpacks, says that he is on the street, with no income from the massive closures, before ask for help. He comes every day to take his sachet of food and, to drink drinking water, he takes advantage of the boiling water dispensers in the convenience stores: “One month that I only drink hot water”, he says.

In the evening, he unrolls a mat and looks for a discreet corner to sleep in an alley, taking care not to be seen by the police: a curfew was instituted between ten in the evening and four in the morning, Homeless people were fined in Chiang Mai, in the north of the country.

A few meters from the distribution, installed on sidewalks, some are trying to sell their personal effects to make some money: used shoes, children’s clothes, dusty fans. An almost octogenarian old lady pushes a cart. Since she has nothing to sell, she offers to collect other people’s objects, to sell them a little further in other neighborhoods, in exchange for a miserable commission.

Particularly vulnerable, the millions of migrant workers, Burmese, Cambodian, Laotian, who were unable or unwilling to return home before the borders were closed, cannot benefit from any government aid. Desperation can be seen on job boards. Many are available to work almost free in exchange for shelter and food. “I’m ready for anything, I can do anything”, writes Sothea Ly, a young Cambodian girl looking for cleaning hours, feverishly.

Suicides and the sale of alcohol

At the end of the day, some people no longer envisage any other outcome than death. Forty suicides directly related to the economic situation have been recorded since March – against around fifty Covid deaths – a rate up by at least 10%, according to the associations, compared to the average, already the highest in the Asean region (Southeast Asia). A mother who could no longer feed her two children by selling door-to-door yogurts, a taxi driver who had just been refused government aid of around 120 euros for the poorest …

Emergency call services for people in psychological distress are all overcrowded. “We received over 600 calls this month, says Satit Pitudecha of the crisis cell of the Ministry of Health, against thirty in the previous month. “

Slightly softening the prevailing gloom, the government has just lifted the strict ban on alcohol sales in force for a month. Bars remain closed, but grocery stores will again be allowed to market and Thais to “Drink at home” according to the new decree. As the epidemic appears to be stagnating at very low levels (less than 3000 cases in all, less than 10 new infections a day), more and more voices are being heard to question these drastic measures and their economic and human consequences.

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