PREVENTING A PANDEMIC OF HUNGER

May 2020

In an unpredictable fight against COVID-19, the cause and effect has led the world to battle many challenges, along with the pandemic. The UN food relief agency has warned that the world is on the brink of a "hunger pandemic" and could face multiple famines of biblical proportions within few months if nations don't act now to avoid funding shortfalls and disruptions to trade due to COVID-19, which continues to spread unabated. According to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the number of people facing acute food insecurity could nearly double this year to 265 million, due to the economic fallout of COVID-19.

While India is gripped by the coronavirus crisis and is observing a lockdown, millions have been stranded with no food and shelter.

Food insecurity is slowly becoming as serious an issue as coronavirus in the country. As millions in India work in the unorganized sector and depend on daily wages, job security and financial crisis loom over many, stocking food supplies becomes a major challenge for the marginalized group, and food inaccessibility an everyday reality.

While India grapples with food insecurity, Bihar in India has statistics working against it. The prevalence of underweight children in Bihar is higher than in any country in the world, and the provision of public services to address malnutrition is poor. According to the NFHS-4, in 2015-16, almost 48% of children under five in the state were stunted, which is the highest for India. As migrants from across the country return to their homes, travelling by foot or in crowded trains, there is an expected increase in the COVID-19 spread in the coming months. Bihar has to deal with the twin challenge of feeding its masses and deal with the pandemic.

Addressing the Hunger Crisis

Akhand Jyoti Eye Hospital, an Orbis India partner in Bihar, is providing immediate relief efforts in its catchment area in Mastichak village in Saran, Bihar. The partner hospital is working with local administration to provide food packets to the most marginalized in the area. Going beyond distribution of food, the hospital has adopted a 3-pillar approach to respond to the crisis.

Food Express: The nationwide lockdown has taken away the capacity of the people to earn and feed themselves. 80% of Akhand Jyoti’s patients belong to this section of the population. This inspired the partner hospital to launch Food Express initiative to provide 1,00,000 food packets in 100 days. Since the launch of the initiative on March 30, more than 11,500 food packets have been distributed to the ones who need it the most. Each unit of food packet consists of rice, potatoes, mustard oil, wheat flour, jaggery, etc. The quantity in each of the food packets depend on family size and requirements. 3000 of the total food packets distributed included 11kg rice, 2 kg sattu, 2 kg potato, 500ml mustard oil in each of the packets. The remaining 8,500 units included 2kg rice, 2kg wheat flour, 1kg potato units each.

Akhand Jyoti has created a digital fundraising campaign and is reaching out to their stakeholders to raise funds for the initiative. The NGO hospital has estimated that they require INR 76 or USD 1 to feed a family of four for a day.

Coronavirus awareness pamphlet

Encouraging Social Distancing: Door to door food distribution campaign has created an opportunity for Akhand Jyoti team to interact with many every day. The visiting team is leveraging this opportunity to interact with families on practicing social distancing and creating awareness on the significance of frequent hand washing. The hospital has also distributed 6000 masks as part of the campaign.

Creating Awareness: Following the guidelines issued by the Government of India, Akhand Jyoti is also creating awareness on preventive measures and symptoms of COVID- 19. IEC materials are being distributed in the nearby villages.

Since 2016, Orbis has been working with Akhand Jyoti to strengthen pediatric eye care services in the region. Orbis, in collaboration with Akhand Jyoti established its first Children’s Eye Center in Bihar. The focus was on improving quality management system and building capacity of eye health professionals. By the end of 2022, with Orbis support, it is expected that Akhand Jyoti will have at least 90,000 patient visits for pediatric eye care and 290,000 pediatric eye screenings/examinations. At least 10,000 pediatric optical treatments will be provided, and 3,600 pediatric eye surgeries will be performed.

God-sent Lifeline

“I thought that I will die of hunger”, says a visibly emotional Fuljharo Kunwar, who had not eaten for four days until the Food Express team gave her the food ration bag. Fuljharo has been living alone in Rampur village in Saran, Bihar. After her family members, including her husband and sons died few years ago, she has been working as domestic help in the neighboring society. The COVID-19 imposed lockdown had an apparent impact on her, leaving her without any earnings. With tears of relief she exclaims that the team was a godsend to give her hope and relief.

One meal a day

A migrant family from Rajasthan, living in Sonho Bazar in Bihar depends on daily earnings from manual labour and by selling grinding stone. In the recent times though, the demand of grinding stone has reduced dramatically, along with work assignments for labourers. The family of six members, with four children have been living on one square meal a day, to ensure that food stock lasts for more number of days. The family says that the food ration support from Akhand Jyoti will help them sustain for 30 more days.