Corona vs. Hunger: An Orgy of Death

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Photo: http://www.aa.com.tr

By Samiya Athar

It has now been more than hundred and sixty days since WHO was notified of the first cases of what we now call COVID‑19, and much has changed since we launched the first Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan two months ago (WHO, 2020). The entire world is battling against COVID-19 virus and the World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 as a public health emergency. The figures of COVID-19 infection and deaths are still on the upward swing. According to the latest update of WHO, due to COVID-19 virus, the worldwide death toll is 406,000 and infected people reached 7,000,000, while India entered 6th position in the world due to 258,000 positive cases and 7,2000 deaths.

The Indian government is working hard to fight the spread of COVID-19. The first step was the nationwide social distancing/ physical distancing that was an efficient measure to break the Covid-19 chain in India. Physical distancing measures and movement restrictions, often referred to as “lockdowns,” can slow COVID-19 transmission by limiting contact between people. However, these measures can have a profound negative impact on individuals, communities, and societies by bringing social and economic life to a near stop. Such measures disproportionately affect disadvantaged groups, including people in poverty, migrants, internally displaced people and refugees, who most often live in overcrowded and under-resourced settings, and depend on daily labour for subsistence (WHO, 2020). A flood has been seen in the COVID-19 cases during the fourth lockdown due to a large crowd in the community level. Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 (CDC, 2020).

Many other steps have been taken by the government of India such as the Vande Bharat Mission to bring the Indians who are stuck outside the country back to their home. The government has also encouraged people to download the health care app Aarogya Setu for the betterment of societal health and is continuously providing free food like wheat, rice and pulses to the people who are below the poverty line. Apart from these, the government has also taken an initiative to provide each farmer with a sum of ‎₹‎6000 in three installments of ₹‎2000 each under the PM-KISAN scheme of 2020. The government is taking plenty of measures but still, there are many questions that arise:

Do all the farmers get the required money? Are they happy with the government? Are they following the rules while going out to take the money?

The problem is that some people are unaware of these schemes; some are not getting the proper amount; some are illiterate and do not even have the proper facility to withdraw the amount. Thus, a large number of the needy is seeking the help of others by coming in contact with other people at the time of this pandemic. Will this not result in an instant growth of Covid-19 cases? Well, obviously yes.

These questions arise in my mind because I have seen such cases in my locality. I was walking on the terrace of my home. Suddenly, I saw a bunch of people gathering near a house. So I went downstairs and looked out of my house door. I saw a lady coming from the crowd. When I talked with the lady and asked her the purpose of such a gathering, she said that they have heard that every needy person would get an amount of ₹‎‎2000 if he/she fills up a form of help from the government. She said that all the persons including her had gathered there so that their form for help gets filled up. I couldn’t see a single mask in such a huge crowd. So, I asked the lady why the crowd was not wearing masks and following the safety measures at this dangerous time. She said that if she had to search for masks and other essentials, she would have to stand at the back of the queue which would have taken a lot of time. The lady also added by saying that even if she survived the Covid-19 danger this time, she would probably die of hunger in the next few days. So I asked her if at least the persons working there at the help centre have made her sanitize hands. But she said that they were neither providing anyone with such facilities nor were they following the safety measures themselves properly.

The second incident that I heard about was the death of a poor 35-year-old lady due to hunger. I got to know about this incident when I heard my family talking about her. The news was really shocking and heart-wrenching. But I decided to know about it in detail. I found out that the lady was a daily wage labourer; she used to earn money every day and feed her family’s poor little stomach. But during the lockdown, due to Covid-19 pandemic, her earnings were restricted as she couldn’t find her way to work. Also, she didn’t have much savings so she had to part with the little amount of food she was left with. Her neighbours were unsatisfied with the government plans regarding food purposes and they blamed the government for her death. So, I informed them about the government food plans for the poor and the needy that are currently active in all over the country. They contradicted me and said that although the government is giving away foodstuff like dal and rice for free in ration shops, the government should understand that raw rice and dal can’t be eaten. The government provides them wheat but it should understand that chapattis can only be made by ground wheat. People can only eat food when it is properly cooked, and for that, they require other ingredients like oil, salt, spices, etc. that play a role in making food. Since the people do not have money to even buy them, they sell about half of the ration they get so that they can buy other food items. Due to this they are left with a little amount of food and had to be satisfied with that only. A similar problem occurred for that poor lady. She had some amount of food left but when that food was also eaten up, she was left with nothing else. The lady died of hunger.

But the question is: what is the solution to this problem?

The Government should use news media, social networks, NGOs and social workers to collect and disseminate COVID-19 epidemiological data and spread awareness related to the pandemic.

The people of the country are the roots of a nation. Thus it is very important that the people do not face difficulty at least at the time of this pandemic.

I would want that the government to ensure that each and every needy person is receiving the amount that he/she is supposed to because they need it to continue their livelihood with great grace as it happens in normal times.

The government should also provide them with the basic essentials like masks, gloves, sanitizers, hand washes, soaps and make them aware to download the Aarogya Setu App on their mobile phones so that the COVID-19 chain can be broken.

The people who are living in unhygienic conditions are a big cause of the spread of Coronavirus. So, the government should at first ensure that all the places are being cleaned up and sanitized regularly. Also, the people like rag pickers who live in slum areas should be taken care of so that they don’t come under the positive cases of COVID-19 because this can risk the lives of plenty of others.

The government should introduce some effective health packages so that the people who are ill and unhealthy do not become an easy target of the virus.

India ranked 102 out of 117 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2019, placed much below its South Asian neighbours such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan (Bakshi, 2019). We need to understand that hunger/famine is the most shameful condition for any country; eradication of hunger should be taken as one of the top priority issues. This is a very difficult time for everyone, and we need to focus on weathering the current crisis. In this time and beyond, there is a need to work together to ensure that no one is ignored. This requires that there is a need for an urgent policy attention to include the poor strata of the society. Hence services providing food facilities should be boosted. If all these measures and precautions are taken efficiently, we shall be able to fight COVID-19 as well as the threat of hunger very soon and will surely win.

Bio:
Samiya Athar
studies at Aurum the Global School, Haldwani, Uttarakhand, India. Email: samiyarshu@gmail.com

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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Poetics and politics of the ‘everyday’: Engaging with India’s northeast”, edited by Bhumika R, IIT Jammu and Suranjana Choudhury, NEHU, India.

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