August 2, 2021

Pandemic in India: a food crisis for millions of people

So much so that this 40-year-old woman, her husband Abdul Jaleel, 65, and their children now only eat one meal a day.

When we are hungry or thirsty, I feel totally helpless and anxious. + How are we going to survive like this +“, she told AFP in her small apartment in Delhi, baking bread cakes for their only meal of the day.

We make do according to what my husband manages to earn. If that’s not enough, I don’t eat to feed the children.

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In the past eight weeks, the coronavirus has killed 160,000 in India, a country where hospitals are overcrowded, and where many businesses have closed.

But beyond the pandemic, another crisis threatens, according to experts, with an increase in malnutrition in the poorest Indian populations who had already been hit hard by the first epidemic wave of 2020.

– “Borrow or steal” –

The crisis is twofold for the poor. There is the health crisis but also an income crisis“, Anjali Bhardwaj, of the Right to Food Campaign organization, told AFP.

There has been a huge health crisis … and many have had to spend their entire life savings to pay for the care of family members.

Around 230 million Indians fell into poverty in 2020, having to live on less than 375 rupees (4.25 euros) a day, according to a study by Azim Premji University in Bangalore.

More than 7.3 million jobs were lost in April alone, according to the Center for Observation of the Indian Economy.

Lots of people fell into poverty last year, got into debt and were reduced to saving on food“, associate professor Amit Basole, one of the study’s authors, told AFP.

The second wave is sweeping over an already very precarious situation.

Construction worker Abdul Jaleel found himself unemployed when construction sites closed due to the orderly confinement in Delhi. He converted to a rickshaw driver.

He only earns 100 rupees a day, compared to 500 previously.

There are even days when I don’t win anything“he said.

As parents, we have to make ends meet one way or another, be it by sleeve, borrowing or stealing.“, he assures.”We do not have the choice.

– “Vicious circle” –

During the first lockdown, 100 million people lost their jobs in India. About 15% of them had not found work by the end of 2020, despite the lifting of restrictions, according to the study from Azim Premji University.

And many of those who found jobs had to accept being paid less, which made them more vulnerable by the time of the second wave.

It is also estimated at 100 million – including the Jaleels – the number of Indians who do not have a ration ticket issued by the government and who give access to food aid, according to Anjali Bhardwaj.

His organization is campaigning for the needy to benefit from food aid even if they do not have such a card.

The pandemic has ruined years of efforts on the poverty reduction front. And experts worry that many will remain in trouble for a long time, even after the restrictions are lifted.

The fear is to get bogged down in an economy that will be depressed for a long time because demand will remain at half mast due to the drop in purchasing power induced by the jobs crisis.“, worries Amit Basole.”As the lost jobs will not be recreated, it will be a vicious cycle.

Bhupinder Singh, a microfinance worker who participated in food distributions during the two lockdowns, has seen desperation rise among the hundreds of jobless people sleeping outside near a Delhi highway.

Every time he takes part in the food distribution, his arrival is greeted with shouts of joy and a long queue forms in the back of his car.

People are stuck here in despair“Sunil Thakur, 50, who lost his job in a hotel during confinement, told AFP.

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If they come with food, we can eat. Otherwise, we are left with hunger.


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