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Sunday, May 17, 2020 17:00 [IST]

Last Update: Sunday, May 17, 2020 11:28 [IST]

A humanitarian, social and economic crisis greater than Covid-19

Dr DEBAPRIYA MUKHERJEE
I was really upset while my friend in my native village conveyed that further extension of lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus has forced many of us to make the cruel choice between preserving our lives or our livelihoods. He raised one unique question in the backdrop of continuous lockdown- “I know coronavirus is very dangerous, the whole world is struggling. Many people in our village particularly upper and middle classes are not facing any difficulties in availability of foods as they can afford but for people like us, what should we pick- safety and hunger? I used to support my family selling the flowers grown in my garden to the devotees visiting to the famous temples in my village. This lockdown has completely restricted the visits of the devotees. Also there is no wedding ceremony. Closure of small restaurants and many small shops forces many owners in this village incomeless. In addition, poor youths those were employed in the informal sector in cities far away from the village has become jobless and unable to support  their families.  They do not have bank accounts, relying on cash to meet their daily needs. In rural area, 60% workforce is engaged in farming, and the lockdown has affected every aspect of their work cycle: harvest, planting, procurement, labour, and markets. This lockdown and social distancing did not account for the people like us. It worked for those with higher incomes and spacious homes, who only had to step out for occasional grocery runs.”
In this piquant situation food safety is crucial to limit both the spread of Covid-19 and exposure to other illnesses. The common citizens, very often, do not have access to real healthy food in the market as all are contaminated with residual herbicides and other residual pesticides and hormone. In the backdrop of fatality due to outbreak of Covid-19 it may be mentioned that there is presumably no pre-existing immunity in the population against the new coronavirus and everyone in the population is assumed to be susceptible. The loss of immunity may be attributed to consumption of contaminated food that cause different ailments in human.
In view of this, it may be mentioned that India’s poorest citizens are  paying a devastating price — far bigger than the middle class and the wealthy. While movement of these poor people particularly migrant workers and their sufferings for food and transport are focused through social media,  we have behaved as if they are the problem for spreading the Covid-19 instead of acknowledgement of  their acute food and shelter crisis.  The virus has been ferried by India’s wealthy from countries visited in the past few months. But it is the poorest who will pay the harshest price, especially in a country where there is less than one doctor for every 1,000 citizens and only 2.3 critical care beds for every 100,000 patients.
In 2019, India spent just 1.28 percent of its gross domestic product on health. Sadly, hundreds of thousands of the poor who are battling other diseases and cannot access the public health-care system as many government hospitals have been converted into Covid-19 facilities. A number of people with HIV have been stranded. Similarly, a lot of cancer patients are finding it hard to access basic healthcare services. This must be addressed urgently because one of the fallouts of Covid-19 could be that people with other diseases could end up paying the price. The situation may deteriorate into violence if the desperation increases and people continue to go without food and job.
This lockdown is the largest confinement in human history, with 1.3 billion people abruptly shut in. Neither the system nor the citizenry is prepared for it. Unfortunately this lockdown was arrogant and domineering declarations which had brutal consequences, especially on poor. We can cite examples of ultimate fate of the poor labourers during this lockdown. While the labourers were returning to Madhya Pradesh and were sleeping on the tracks, at least 15 labourers died after being run over by goods train near Jalna in Maharashtra.  Three of thousands migrant workers who have set out on foot for their home states from Maharashtra amid lockdown were died in Barwanidistric of Maharashtra. Possible cause of deaths was fatigue and dehydration in peak summer heat. Many of the returning migrants are kept in the district administration’s quarantine centres. A migrant worker in LakhimpurKheri, RoshanLal, killed himself after being allegedly beaten up by a police officer for missing quarantine attendance. He missed the attendance  because he had left the centre to arrange for food for his family. Many such incidents happened during the lockdown period mainly to ensure food security among the poor people. Globally, before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, 821 million people experience chronic hunger while another 135 million people face "crisis levels of hunger or worse”. The lockdown has turned into a humanitarian crisis because of poor planning.
Without food, there can be no health.  In India, rural farmers are selling their agriculture products meant for city dweller at throw away price to the villagers because they cannot transport them to the markets in cities. Because of the lockdown they stopped going to sell their products for fear of being questioned or beaten by the police. Though governments has declared economic package for cash and food but that was too little to sustain their livelihood. While social distancing has been adopted as a measure to reduce the rate of spread of COVID-19, experts including the World Health Organization (WHO) have observed that countries like India cannot afford to have a long lockdown as it may create a severe economic crisis. The economic impact can be severe for India due to The existing problems of poverty and malnutrition has been further aggravated due to loss of income to the informal sector workers.    As a result, a large share of the population may be exposed to hunger, malnutrition, exodus, destitution and other problems which may be more harmful than the disease itself. Disruption of supply chains triggered by the lockdown has led to poor access to sufficient food and likely impact on food security. People with ill health and non-communicable diseases including diabetes, heart disease, cancer and chronic respiratory disease  due to unhealthy diet are at  a heightened risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19. This Covid19  exposed the entrenched inequality of our stratified, class-driven country and caused severe panic because the Centre and state governments could  not act quickly on a number of measures such as availability of food, necessary items, medicines, financial help, shelter to the needy and smooth transition of migrant workers. While the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, the head of the United Nations food agency warned that a looming "hunger pandemic" will bring "the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II."
The outbreak of Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) has widely affected people all over the world and radically changed the routine functions of humanity. Local governments, private companies, state governments, several personal and NGOs has taken requisite action to halt the issues of immediate sufferers i.e. the migrants and daily wages. However, owing to the huge population of migrant laborers, daily wage workers, destitute etc. in the country, it is undoubtedly difficult to cover all of them and thereby livelihood of many people are at stake.
The pandemic situation demands a certain way of shaping the society to reduce the spread and is the only way to safeguard humanity from breaking the chain of COVID-19 infection. The current COVID-19 generated food environment disruption poses a huge global challenge, but also an opportunity. Mitigating its consequences with collaborative solutions, solidarity and reinforcement of local food systems has shown  the way towards a sustainable transformation to  resilient and sustainable food systems with healthy nutrition at their core. Upgrading agricultural operations regularly is essential. All along the supply chain, marketing and organizational innovations are increasingly important. Thus, there is a need to understand the respective role of government and private sector in strengthening agriculture and facilitating the adoption of more percipient practices at the farm and agro-food firm level. One post-COVID-19 challenge will be to restore economic activities including those in food and agriculture.
The short food supply chains and the local producers, which were not able to be part of this global business for several reasons (e.g. low production capacity, non-competitive prices, etc.) were negatively affected by this expansion of market. Globalization should not be treated  negatively  but now we are facing critical situation in the event of a crisis of planetary dimensions like the COVID-19 because many countries close their borders and thereby  movements and availability of food cannot be guaranteed.
In the backdrop of this international crisis, it is essential to strengthen the research activities to provide technical solutions aimed to improve short food supply chains and local productions because in this crisis  they will represent a potential lifeline. The reinforcement of this local micro-economy is also useful in non-crisis situations, since allow to increase the chances of employment and improve people’s quality of life. Sometime, investment in the improvement of short food supply chains and in local productions would let us moving forwards, preserving the food products access. If  consumers rediscover their bond with the territory and then they will not prefer to purchase from supermarkets. Thereby supply and distribution chains must guarantee the delivery of food to the most vulnerable of our populations, especially in densely populated urban settlements and rural areas, while at the same time containing Covid-19. All of these measures must be implemented effectively, and as soon as possible, to avoid a hiccup in supply as millions of people already faced with the calamitous consequences of a badly planned nationwide lockdown.
E-mail:dpmcpcb@yahoo.com

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi