Sandhya, a 32-year old widow, lives in Lucknow slums. After recently losing her husband, she now has to take care of their small child on her own. Sandhya migrated from Bihar and worked at a construction site that was, unfortunately, shut in the lockdown.
She embodies the most vulnerable figure we can think of — a woman, a widow, a single mother, a migrant labourer, and now an unemployed person. Her immediate priority is to feed her child and herself during the current tough times. As the world is being overwhelmed by the COVID-19 outbreak, underprivileged people like Sandhya are the first ones to face its consequences. For the population of Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s ten poorest states, hunger has become the number one problem and has taken over all other issues.
Local non-profit organizations are channelizing all their resources to tackle this problem. Nothing else has a real value except food when people are not sure whether they will have something to eat today. When Sandhya received a ration kit from us, her eyes filled with profound gratitude and happiness. Till March 2020, we, at RightWalk, were focused on running our main Right to Education (RTE) project in Uttar Pradesh.
As the COVID-19 situation intensified, our helpline was bombarded with distress calls from our RTE community that included daily wagers, migrants, rickshaw-pullers and extremely poor people who were stuck without food in different locations after the COVID-19 lockdown announcement. We understood that this situation urgently required a shift in focus from education to food distribution. We could use our RTE network to help the people in need. It needed to be a collective effort.
To evaluate the extent of the problem and the needs of the poor people impacted by the strict national lockdown, the RightWalk Foundation conducted a survey among 1,108 UP families during the month of April. Among them are daily-wage earners (86%), self-employed workers (10%), salaried workers (3%) and unemployed (1%).
As the survey demonstrates, the impact of lockdown is remarkably negative, with an average of 71% of all respondents being currently unemployed. Even before the lockdown, almost half of them (41%) were living below the extreme poverty line, i.e. earning less than ₹150 per day. Nowadays, barely one-third of them can secure a daily wage for their families. In addition to that, 97% of families are left with no savings since they have always been dependent on a very marginal income.
Having no money and no understanding of what the future will bring, people are scared that there will be no work available even after the lockdown is lifted. What is more, their biggest fear is hunger — 85% of respondents confessed that scarcity of food is not less of a threat than the coronavirus itself. They expect this to continue or worsen after the lockdown is lifted.
In the fight for survival, people do not really worry about the pandemic that much, partly because only 23% of them have good knowledge about the nature of the disease and the necessary precautions.
The current situation requires an urgent humanitarian response. The survey demonstrates that 87% of people in need received food through the RightWalk Foundation (RW) and other local NGOs. For example, as of now, RW distributed food kits to 3,300 vulnerable families in UP, which is equal to 700,000+ meals, in collaboration with Aavishkaar Group, Omidyar and Allana Group. The food kit included flour, rice, lentils, vegetables and other products.
Our target is to reach 8,000 families, distribute 1mln+ meals and also provide education kits to 500 children so that they can sustain their learning (Grade 1–5). The government support, according to the respondents, has reached less than 2% of UP’s underprivileged population so far. It is expected to increase in the near future. During the survey, it was also found that the most vulnerable groups, such as widows, single mothers, elderly people and children were often left during the ration distribution, missing it out due to personal reasons.
Yet, families headed by male members managed to come and receive the supplies multiple times. Surely, better targeting is a need of the hour to serve the underprivileged people, and the non-profit help is turning out to be the most effective and responsive in these neighbourhoods. Even though RightWalk Foundation is primarily targeting education issues in the state through RTE, solving hunger problem and providing means of livelihoods has become RightWalk’s top priority in these disturbing times. Due to the unprecedented nature of the crisis, non-profits have to be adaptable and innovative to address people’s concerns and help people in every possible way.
About the authors:
Samina Bano is the Founder & CEO at RightWalk
Karan is the Head of Strategy at RightWalk
We also want to recognize the amazing work of following RW warriors:
Shipra Srivastava (Coordinating food distribution and Helpline Calls)
Polina Nezdiikovska (Drafting the article)
Unnati Palan and Pawanjeet Singh (Data analysis)