photo: Kim Hendriksen

WILLEMSTAD – The poverty on Curaçao is so dire that the Red Cross on the island fears looting while it is distributing emergency aid. The organization was already overrun by hungry individuals.

To guarantee the safety of its employees, the Red Cross utilizes a motorcade to distribute food packages amongst different distribution points, from where they are further spread out over the island.

The amount of people living in poverty has increased drastically since the start of the corona crisis. Thousands of people are out of a job, money, and food. The desperation can really be felt in the poorest neighborhoods according to the aid workers.

Overrun by hungry individuals
“During the past few weeks we’ve heard from different organizations that distribute food packages, that they’ve been overrun by hungry individuals”, says Charles Sintjacoba, junior youth leader at the Red Cross on Curaçao. Maisy Scharbay, branch manager of the Red Cross on Curaçao, confirms this.

“When we just started packing up the food packages we would regularly get hungry individuals at the gates of the Red Cross, asking for food. To protect our volunteers we drive to the same location with multiple vehicles, and as fast as possible, so pack it up and go.”

Vulnerable groups hit hardest
The Funditut foundation understands the level of despair under Curaçaoans. The organization helps vulnerable youth who have been to prison, partake in society. “Normally the boys work for us, and they get a remuneration, but since COVID-19 the boys have been at home without income”, says Reno Martha, project leader at Funditut.

“They would either die of hunger or they would have had to steal their food”
– Reno Martha, youth counselor Funditut

Every week food packages get delivered at the foundation for the boys and their families. “Without the food packages the boys would not have had any food during the last two months. They would either die of hunger or they would have had to steal their food. That’s why we are extremely grateful that we can get these food packages”, says Martha.

16,5 million euros emergency aid

The Netherlands has made 16,5 million euros available for emergency aid on all six islands. At the request of the Hague, the Red Cross has been coordinating the distribution of 16 million euros worth of emergency aid over Curaçao, Aruba, and Sint Maarten, since six weeks. The remaining half a million is allocated towards the Caribbean municipalities of Bonaire, Saba, and Statia.

Oversight and distribution of emergency aid
The Representation of the Netherlands in Willemstad (VNW) ensures that the funds from the Netherlands reaches the right organizations in Curaçao. It is however not known how the funds will be divided amongst the islands, that was not agreed upon in percentages beforehand.

“That’s a matter of need”, says Erwin Arkenbout, the Representative of the Netherlands in Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten. “We follow the suggestions of the Red Cross. It is likely that the division will be proportional to the size of the islands but if the need is greater on Aruba for example, more funds will go there.”

At the moment the emergency aid is planned to last till August. If after that the emergency aid is still needed, the Netherlands will be approached to see if they will extend the period.

A report by Kim Hendriksen