The COVID-19 pandemic that spread around the world since late 2019 has had profound implications for food security and nutrition. The crisis was not only of global health but also a catastrophic global economic slowdown. These crises have resulted in lower incomes and higher prices of food, undermining the right to food and stalling efforts to meet Sustainable Development Goal “Zero hunger.”
The effects of the lockdown to curb the spread of the novel corona virus disease (COVID-19) and the resultant economic crisis continue to plague the poor and vulnerable. Two-thirds of around 4,000 vulnerable and marginalised populations surveyed across 11 states stated the quantity of food they consumed either ‘decreased somewhat’ or ‘decreased a lot’ compared to before the lockdown. A huge proportion of the surveyed population also had to skip meals. In September and October20, when the hunger watch survey was conducted, one in 20 households often went to bed without eating. About 56 per cent said they never had to skip meals before lockdown. But one in seven of these had to either skip meals ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ in the post-lockdown phase.
A large number of households also reported no or lower levels of income since the lockdown; 56 per cent of those who had no income in April-May continued to have no income in September-October20.
The impact of the CSP program unfolded against the backdrop of this terrible challenge to the livelihood and sustenance of the Urban Poor in Kolkata City.
The program was launched on 1st May 2020. It provided survival rations for the poorest of urban poor although some of our beneficiaries were in a possession of ration card the amount available through Govt. Ration is around 2 Kg of Rice per month per person and 3 kg of wheat which may not be sufficient to cover nutrition needs of livelihood deprived families.
The Food Aid program of CSP ,supported and enabled by Ujjivan Small Finance Bank, through the months of October and November ( and subsequently for December also) has functioned as life saver to wage earners deprived of any sort of livelihood during lockdown and the aftermath of societal fear. This was partial or total loss of Livelihood was evidenced in
Maid servants prevented from reporting for work
Rickshaw pullers, auto drivers deprived of earning
Small Vendors left without working capital which had been consumed up to feed the family at times of no earnings
Road side food stall owners left without customers
Daily Laborers without work
100 days Labors left without work
Theatre and Stage craftsman, Make up artistes, dressers, light men etc.
Physiotherapists not permitted to work due to social distancing norms
Beauty parlor workers not permitted to work due to social distancing norms
Employees of schools
Employees in travel and tourism.
Employees in the hospitality sector
Pavement dwelling families and children
…and many more categories.
Left with no savings and no safety net such people were on the brink of starvation after a month of Lockdown by April.
The CSP program of Food Aid gave essential food and cooking ingredients to each family , once a week with for two square meals a day for the whole week –rice, potatoes, pulses, cooking oil, spices and puffed rice sufficient to feed a family of four for a whole week till the next distribution date. Starting with 324 persons it feeds currently around 1300 persons today who are economic victims of Covid 19.
The list of beneficiaries is under constant review to discontinue those whose livelihood is back and replace with others in need.
The impact of the program will be evident in the way the numbers have been going up despite gradual opening up which goes to show that there are many sectors of the economy which are still in a state near disaster. It is in saving and sustaining some of such victims that the program supported by Ujjivan Small Finance Bank has had its largest impact.
It is hard to envisage the impact on society of 1200 plus starving or semi starving of the poorest of its citizens. Possibilities may have emerged of food riots, hunger driven crime and insurgence at a time when governance itself was paralysed by Covid.
The containment of all such horrific eventualities is testament to the impact of this and similar programs.