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In crisis-struck Rio, police need donated toilet paper

By Agence France-presse in Rio De Janeiro | China Daily | Updated: 2016-11-28 08:12

Maria Thereza Sombra may rely on Rio de Janeiro's police to keep her safe - but in the grip of financial crisis they rely on the 82-year-old to supply them with toilet paper.

Severe budget shortfalls in Brazil's recent Olympic host city have left police scrounging for equipment, fuel and even the most basic hygiene items. Hospitals are equally hard hit, compounding a deepening sense of insecurity in a city plagued by violent crime.

Sombra said that ordinary citizens need to step in where the state is failing.

"If the police have their hands tied what will happen to us?" she asked. "We have to help those who are defending us. Otherwise no one will be able to go out of their homes."

A retired teacher and president of Rio's Flamengo neighborhood association, Sombra began helping police back in April when the city was already descending into a pre-Olympic financial abyss.

However, what started off as a spontaneous initiative among Rio residents was enshrined this month in an official program called "Together with the Police".

Police, firefighters, hospital staff and other state employees have been in crisis since early this year.

In June, Rio de Janeiro state, home to Brazil's second-biggest city, had to be bailed out by the federal government after declaring a "state of calamity". And in the run-up to the Olympics first responders mounted high-profile protests to demand payment of late salaries and overtime.

The Olympics provided brief respite with emergency funding, but the situation has since regressed.

In a state heavily reliant on oil-industry revenues, the slump in oil prices and a huge corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras have hit hard. A $5.4 billion budget shortfall is predicted for 2016.

Sombra and her neighbors say that they just have to keep trying to help in their modest way.

"In reality, I'm paying my taxes twice," Sombra said. "I pay my obligatory taxes and now I'm paying again because of our bad leaders. But it's not the fault of the police."


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