Geopolitics

Italy To India To Brazil, How COVID Has Trivialized Mass Death

We've gotten used to too many people dying, and too many dying alone.

Workers of Rome funeral parlors protesting against the situation in Roman cemeteries, April 2021, Italy.
Workers of Rome funeral parlors protesting against the situation in Roman cemeteries, April 2021, Italy.
Alessio Perrone

-Analysis-

MILAN — I was recently alerted to an event I had missed here in Italy: A couple of weeks ago, as the government announced the easing of coronavirus restrictions and restaurant workers protested because Italy wasn't reopening fast enough, funeral parlors also took to the streets of Rome. It was "a funeral of funerals," they said.

With wreaths of flowers, hearses and signs of condolences, participants quietly marched near the Baths of Caracalla, close to the city's center. It was an act of mourning, a reaction to the staggering loss of life, yes, but also to the burial crisis that is taking place in Rome as a result.

With hundreds of people still dying of COVID every day in Italy, the capital's cemeteries and crematoriums have been overwhelmed. Crematoriums have waiting lists of hundreds of bodies. Some 2,000 coffins are stacked in improvised waiting rooms as they await their turn to be buried in the city's cemeteries.

Covid_Italy_funeral_parlors

Funeral workers with placards ""Apologies but they don't let us bury your loved ones "" during the protest of workers in the funeral sector. — Photo: Cristiano Minichiello/ Avalon/Avalon/ZUMA

The grief of thousands of families remains truncated as a result, and there's little indication that things will change anytime soon. In at least one case, the Italian daily Corriere della Sera reports that a family has been given an appointment to bury a relative nearly seven months after his death. "We live in a city where dying, too, has become difficult," Paolo Conti wrote for the paper.

We have become numb to the mass death that occurs around us.

I was surprised to catch myself thinking that 2,000 coffins seem like a small number these days. Last week, we gazed mesmerized at the photos of mass cremations in India, as the country became the epicenter of the pandemic and went through a tsunami of deaths. In a spine-chilling quote, a Delhi crematorium worker told Scroll.in that at his workplace: "There are more bodies than wood" to cremate them.

Before India, the center of our attention was Brazil, where more than 4,000 people died every day, and where the agony mixed with fury at President Jair Bolsonaro's staggeringly bad management of the pandemic. Yet we forget that here too — among us! — hundreds die every day.

It must be one of the most distinctive characteristics of this phase of the pandemic. More than a year into restrictions, obsessing over how quickly we should get vaccinated, eager to savor our newly found lives, captivated by the incredible tragedies occurring in poorer far-away places, we have become numb to the mass death that occurs around us.

As Celso Ming recently wrote in Estado de Sao Paulo: "One of the consequences of this pandemic is the trivialization of death." People continue to die in large numbers, he pointed. And they die alone, without a funeral, company or last rites, departing for early oblivion and curtailing the mourning of their families. The rest of us, in the meantime, just accept it all — "as if it were a new normal."

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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