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Challenges and Opportunities of Investing in the Lives and Livelihoods of India’s Poor during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Chennai

30-year-old Sunita’s husband Bablu passed away during the second wave of COVID-19, leaving her and their three children behind. Bablu was a balloon seller. His death was sudden and cruel for the family that was struggling to get food on their plate during the lockdown. “We spent the money we received from World Vision India on the funeral ceremony. With the remaining we bought rations and balloons so that we could start the balloon selling business again,” said Sunita. Likewise Vishal used the cash provided to restart his ironing business in Delhi which was closed during the second wave and he had no choice but to return to his hometown in UP. As part of the recovery response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown, World Vision India provides support through cash and voucher program to help affected families revive their lost livelihood.

There are many people like Sunita’s and Vishal’s, who need a strong strategy and timely intervention to sustain their livelihoods affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. A webinar organized by World Vision India today, brought together experts across the country to delve upon the ‘Challenges and Opportunities in addressing the pandemic impacted livelihood crises’.

Sharing his views on the issue, Satoshi Sasaki, Deputy Director, ILO Decent Work Team for South Asia and Country Office for India said, “ILO was one of the first to identify that COVID 19 was not only a medical emergency but also an economic emergency. As the pandemic and livelihood crisis is evolving, the need to protect the most vulnerable becomes even more urgent and important. For millions of workers, no income means no food and no social security. Millions of MSME businesses around the country are struggling to thrive. So it is important to reactivate the country’s economy, which should follow a job-rich approach to promote green businesses, backed by stronger employment policies, especially for women, which is better-resourced and includes comprehensive social protection systems involving digital technology. International co-ordination on stimulus packages and debt relief measures. This will be also critical to making recovery effective and sustainable. International labour standards, which already enjoy tripartite consensus, can provide a framework.”

In May 2020, World Vision India conducted a rapid assessment across 118 districts from 24 states and 2 union territories (Delhi and Kashmir) to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the lockdown, on agricultural production, livelihoods and food security, as well as awareness and receipt of government’s support during those challenging times. The findings highlighted that the livelihoods of more than 60% of parents or caregivers were fully or severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and further pointed out that, the daily workers who form the largest segment were the worst hit.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable in the country. This has had a direct bearing on the well-being of India’s most vulnerable children. Many of them face an uncertain future. To address the pandemic induced livelihood challenges, World Vision India has developed a multi-pronged approach which includes individual household food security, short term credit to farmers, livelihood support and facilitating communities to access economic stimulus packages,” said Madhav Bellamkonda, National Director & CEO, World Vision India.

The webinar brought together experts, activists, policymakers, networks and civil society members across the country. It aimed at consolidating efforts by different CSOs, government and other actors in building a collective channel of communication for integrated and more intense efforts, to promote livelihood opportunities for the rural and urban poor. It was also stressed that with the varied impacts of COVID-19, gender-aware interventions must strengthen the resilience of women in rural and agricultural livelihoods, both in recovering from COVID-19 and anticipating the next crisis. Other major recommendations include providing financial support for Micro Small and Medium Enterprise’s (MSME), setting up of Worker Facilitation Centres at district level, extending Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) to all vulnerable populations along with universalizing Public Distribution System (PDS) and implement One Nation One Ration Card Scheme.

As a humanitarian relief organization, World Vision India not only provides immediate relief, it is committed to ensure that the affected communities get back on their feet through long-term rehabilitation initiatives. From October 2020 to March 2021, World Vision India has been supporting 2,11,30 households across the program implementation areas to ensure food security and have increased access to social safety nets through its COVID 19 relief response initiatives. Apart from that, 9158 small and marginalised farmers were assisted in agriculture production and 6174 marginalised families were supported with livelihood assets.