Samarthan’s Response to COVID-19 Crisis in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh
The country has faced an unprecedented disaster in form of COVID-19 (corona virus) threat for the society and economy of the country. The initial Janta curfew was imposed on the 22nd March, 2020 across the country and later on the 24th March mid-night, it was announced by the Prime Minister to completely lock down the country for 21 days. As a result, public transport viz. railways, buses, taxis etc. have come to a halt. The citizens are expected to come out of their houses only for essential requirements viz. purchase of glossary, vegetables, visits to hospitals or other emergencies. The lockdown has brought the country to a sudden halt, therefore various abnormal conditions have erupted in rural and urban areas.
The halt of the social and economic life at large has several implications for various sections of the society. The poor daily wage earners, small entrepreneurs, farmers are the most affected by the lockdown as their earnings have completely stopped. In order to buy bare essentials, they will require cash and access to goods, especially in remote areas. The old people are also finding it difficult to go out to buy goods and medicines. The daily migrant wage earners/seasonal workers in cities who largely come from rural areas have suddenly started moving to their hometowns creating frenzy and breaking the norms of social distancing1. Moreover, there are the most vulnerable without food and water.
The social behavior demands significant changes to promote habits of hand washing with soap, use of safe distances at public places/ utilities, efficient management of limited resources, including water apart from ensuring safe and easy access to essentials.
As any disaster brings in several social disorders leading to chaos, conflicts and inequitable use of the resources related to basic survival, COVID-19 situation is also simmering various kinds of conflicts as many of the returnee migrants are not being treated with compassion (they are considered as definitive careers of the virus rather than suspects). As a result, they are denied access within the village or not welcomed by the village leaders. For many of these returnees, this is also the time when they come home to provide extra hands in farming operations (harvest, post-harvest, sales etc.) so save family expenditure on agricultural labour and create some annual surplus. Similarly, many vulnerable families within the villages and urban slums would require food for survival or access to purchase essential items.
The local governments have a significant role to play to demonstrate their relevance and authority as an institution of Local Governance, so that public services remain accessible to one and all and each of the citizen feels cared and protected with the support of the community leaders and community.
In this context, Samarthan has developed a strategy in consultation with its existing teams in different locations viz. state, district, block, villages and slums as well as its large cadre of volunteers at the grassroots that reached out to people for understanding their existing challenges and needs. As the crisis appears to be long term, there is a need to work out a strategy for the short, medium and long term. The strategy detailed here also has inputs from the core staff of Samarthan as well as its Board of Trustees and other relevant stakeholders.
Our Approach and Guiding Principles
- Establishing Local Governments as peoples’ Government in managing disasters
- Building collective leadership of local institutions to manage disaster
- Access to entitlement and rights of the people applying the principles of equity, inclusion and fairness
- Protecting and promoting sustainable livelihoods and rural-urban continuum
- Developing long term plan to address climate change and environmental concerns
Strategies and Action Areas
- Differentiating reach and activity matrix in different clusters
Short term strategy and action areas
- Mass awareness among the citizens in rural areas for safe practices
- Encouraging Gram Panchayats to develop public buildings as quarantine centers for the returnee migrants
- Access of benefits to the entitlements to the poor and marginalized families
- Direct food and essential item support to the most vulnerable families
- Support in continuation of health services in the villages and linkages with the PHCs and CHCs for crisis
Medium term strategy and action areas
- Support to the farm economy and rural artisans & entrepreneurs
- Provide wage employment through convergence of Government schemes