The politics of COVID aid and compassion: India vs Brazil

Images depicting India and Brazil's COVID crises

While residents of wealthy countries are getting ready for hot vaxxed summer — COVID is still ravaging many low- and middle-income countries. The horrifying scenes coming out of India in recent weeks have gripped the world, causing governments and civil society to quickly mobilize and pledge support.

But on the other side of the globe, Brazil is also being pummeled by the pandemic — and has been for a year now. Yet thus far, the outpouring of aid and (solidarity) hasn't been as large.

What explains the global alarm at India's situation, and seeming passivity towards Brazil's plight? What are the politics of compassion?


Scope of the crises. Both India and Brazil are experiencing catastrophic outbreaks of disease. These countries have the two highest death rates in the world, recording 2,367 deaths (Brazil) and 3,571 (India) respectively on average over the past 7-days. (However, data coming out of India is vastly undercounted.)

Both are seeing a steady stream of new daily cases and deaths: Brazil and India recorded 28 new cases per 100,000 on average over the past week. But there's one big difference: while India's deterioration has been recent and swift, Brazil's crisis has been relentless over the past 12 months.

Global (in)action: While both Brazil and India are spiralling, the international response to India and Brazil has been vastly different.

For India, the Biden administration mobilized to deliver $100 million in emergency aid in mere days, and directed vaccine supplies to Indian drug manufacturers.

And while critics have pointed out that US aid to India is still too stingy, compare that to to Washington's tight-fisted approach to Brazil: despite repeated appeals for help from Brazilian officials, Washington has doled out just $19.7 million in pandemic-related aid over the past year, including less than $2 million for hard-hit Amazonian communities as they were literally fighting for breath. Similarly, Brussels has offered help to India, while remaining apathetic towards Brazil. (Germany recently sent 80 ventilators to the Amazonian city of Manaus.)

Why?

Politics is personal. One contributing factor is that Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro has not cultivated much goodwill from the international community over the past few years. The brash populist has denied the severity of COVID, scuttled states' efforts to implement lockdowns, and sowed doubt about vaccines' efficacy. And his history of insulting world leaders hasn't helped: He amplified a social media post describing French President Emmanuel Macron's wife as "ugly," and questioned President Biden's electoral victory. Meanwhile, his own government has managed to insult Beijing (mocking Chinese-made vaccines and tweeting racist content about the origins of the pandemic) despite the fact that Brazil depends heavily on China — its largest trade partner — for vaccine supplies.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by contrast, has cut a different figure. Although he is a divisive leader who has made a series of recent blunders in handling the pandemic, he has not diminished the seriousness of COVID-19, and has maintained warm relations with governments whose help his country desperately needs. That approach appears to be working better than Bolsonaro's.

The power of the diaspora. At 18 million, India has the world's largest diaspora, 17 percent of whom live in the United States. As India's crisis spiraled, student groups and non-governmental organizations around the world quickly stepped in to raise funds. Indiaspora, a DC-based non-profit, announced that it had raised $1 million in just 48 hours. Meanwhile, GoFund said that 60,000 donors from 106 countries had contributed to India-related fundraisers since April 17.

While Brazil also has a sizable diaspora population, 450,000 of whom live in the US, its size pales next to India's. And there has been almost nothing comparable in terms of online fundraising.

Acute vs chronic disease. Since COVID exploded in December 2019, hotspots have come and gone. But Brazil's crisis has been more or less constant for a year now. COVID cases — and deaths — have continued to plague populous states like São Paulo and Minas Gerais. Many people around the world seem to have gotten used to things being very bad in Brazil.

India, on the other hand, seemed to have things under control as recently as March. The crisis appeared to come out of nowhere just as economies in Europe, North America and elsewhere were preparing to reopen. This created a sense of global panic and served as a call to action because no one is going back to normal until we all are.

At the moment, neither Brazil nor India is close to that.

Ken Burns discusses Muhammad Ali's background and how the journey of boxing's greatest champion is just as relevant today—in sport, culture and beyond.

"He is speaking to us with a kind of force and clarity...that to me is just so enduring." - Ken Burns

In a frank (and in-person!) interview, António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, speaks with Ian Bremmer at the UN ahead of the annual General Assembly week. Guterres discusses COVID, climate, the US-China rift, and the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, and does not mince words when it comes to the dire state of the world. "We are standing at the edge of an abyss," Guterres warns. COVID is "defeating" the global community and a climate catastrophe is all but assured without drastic action. Amidst this unprecedented peril, there remains a startling lack of trust among nations. And yet, there is still hope.

No country in the Western Hemisphere is more closely associated with disaster and misery than the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Its latest upheaval centers on news that the country's top prosecutor wants Haiti's prime minister to answer questions about the murder of the president in July. Haiti is again locked in a power struggle among competing factions within its ruling elite.

Why is Haiti still so poor and disaster-prone?

More Show less

For Michael Chertoff, former US secretary of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009, the fact that America has not experienced a single attack by foreign terrorists since 9/11 proves that the US was "successful" in its strategy to prevent terrorism. That "was not [an] accident and there was a deterrent effect to be honest — had we been lax, more would have tried." Although he admits the US government wasn't transparent enough about the intelligence it was collecting, Chertoff credits US intelligence agencies with helping to foil the plot to blow up airplanes mid-air from Heathrow to the US in 2006. The US mission in Iraq, or what came after was not clearly thought out, according to Michael Chertoff, who served as the Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush. The Iraq war made it difficult to focus on the US mission in Afghanistan and absorbed resources that could have been used more effectively elsewhere, he said.

Watch the full episode: Is America safer since 9/11?

Listen: In a frank interview on the GZERO World podcast, António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, speaks with Ian Bremmer at the UN ahead of the annual General Assembly week. Guterres discusses COVID, climate, the US-China rift, and the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, and does not mince words when it comes to the dire state of the world. "We are standing at the edge of an abyss," Guterres warns. COVID is "defeating" the global community and a climate catastrophe is all but assured without drastic action. Amidst this unprecedented peril, there remains a startling lack of trust among nations. And yet, there is still hope.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.


"Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still." — Harry S. Truman

The former US president's warning feels particularly prescient as world leaders prepare to gather at the 76th United National General Assembly in New York City, the first such in-person event in over 18 months. The importance of apt leadership in determining societies' ability to cope — and survive — has been on full display since COVID-19 enveloped the globe, decimating communities and killing some 4.5 million people.

More Show less

As the 76th UN General Assembly gets underway, dealing with the pandemic is still the top priority for world leaders. But for John Frank, vice president of UN Global Affairs at Microsoft, COVID is not the only major challenge the world faces today.

One of them — included in the UN Secretary-General's new Common Agenda for strong, inclusive pandemic recovery — is a different way to measure economic growth beyond the traditional productivity-led GDP model by taking more into account the cost of pollution, one of the main causes of climate change.

More Show less

For UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the pandemic has made the world even more divided than it was before COVID. That's especially true on climate, in his view, because rich and poor countries simply don't trust each other anymore. If we want COP26 to succeed, Guterres says we must rebuild that trust — or face the consequences of inaction. "If you are on the verge of an abyss, you must be careful about your next step." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

UNGA 76: Vaccines, climate, crises

Coronavirus

UN Chief: Still time to avert climate “abyss”

GZERO World Clips

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal