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Rising Poverty and Hunger in India due to COVID Pandemic
COVID-19 pandemic has brought economies to a standstill due to lockdowns and movement restrictions. Impact of this contracting economic activity is immense on the lives of those who are below the poverty line(BPL) as well as on the vulnerable who can fall below BPL level. Reduced incomes and resultant poverty are pushing people into a humanitarian crisis where there are deprivations of food and healthcare.
Emerging hunger crisis in India:
Economic crisis due to COVID has led to:
- Urban jobs in informal sector being lost where there is no job security
- Casual wage workers, weavers, artisans, rickshaw pullers, self employed persons are all facing loss of livelihoods
- Migrants returning to villages in fear of pandemic and also because employment opportunities in urban areas are reduced.
- Rise of unemployment to decadal highs to more than 6%
This has led to reduction of incomes of both urban households and rural households.
- Rural households which were dependent on remittances from migrant workers are now facing distress due to migrant returns.
- People and households are being pushed to BPL level of incomes. These include MSME employees, gig economy employees, domestic workers, sex workers, lower middle class households like that of teachers in private schools.
In the absence of an effective public distribution system of food, reduction of incomes has been pushing people into deprivation of food and hunger.
- Nutritional items of diet like milk, eggs, dal, vegetables, fruit, meat are being foregone.
- Only cereal based diet(rice and roti) is being consumed in lesser quantities
- Halting of midday meal scheme due to school closures is depriving nutrition to children. Further, child labour is rising, to meet income and food needs of households.
As pandemic spreads to states with weak public health systems like Bihar, the poor will face a health crisis due to lack of quality public health care and unaffordability of private health care. This will further push them into poverty and will exacerbate the hunger crisis.
The UN estimates that 40 crore people will fall into extreme poverty(less than $1.9 per day) especially in South, South East and East Asia. Further due to lack of efficient public food distribution support, 25 crore people will face acute hunger globally.
Ineffective government responses:
- Ending of universal food support after lockdowns has reduced food availabilityfor new poor who lost their livelihoods. Only those with ration cards are being able to access the rations.
- Preferring credit expansion over cash transfers will not aid economic recoveryas demand has fallen drastically. In addition, this will not address the distress of households which have lost income and livelihoods.
- Dilution of labour laws has reduced protection to workers. Increased working hours(upto 12 hours), suspension of safeguards will weaken the bargaining power of workers and pose health risks. This will make the livelihoods more vulnerable and hence risks rise in poverty and hunger.
GHI(Global Hunger Index by IFPRI) had ranked India at 102 out of 117 in 2019. This position is going to further weaken due to the effects of the pandemic. State and civil society must move with haste to prevent this emerging humanitarian crisis of poverty and hunger. Only by sustained efforts can we regain progress towards goals of Zero poverty(SDG-1) and Zero Hunger(SDG -2).
- Discuss the impact of COVID 19 on food and nutritional security of India? What steps must be taken to ensure food security is provided to vulnerable people? [15 marks, 250 words]