India Interior

Coping with the Covid storm

Preeti Mehra | Updated on August 21, 2020

A survey among youth in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana throws up home truths about the pandemic

Images of thousands of children on the shoulders of their weary parents, some trailing behind along with the suitcases, their feet bleeding and hunger writ large on their faces cannot easily be forgotten. And, while research is still on to understand where combating the pandemic had gone wrong, there is no doubt that from the outset it brought with it, misery. The number of new cases continues to mount with each passing day impacting the nation. Citizens, especially women, children, and daily wage labour, are still facing the brunt.

To gauge the impact, the India-chapter of the international research group, Young Lives, which has been actively studying childhood poverty in Andhra Pradesh (and now Telangana) for over 19 years, decided to undertake three rounds of phone surveys of 2,750 young cohorts who were available on mobile and have been tracked since 2001. (Of these 1,863 of the Younger Cohort respondents were aged 18, and 887 Older Cohort respondents were 25 years old). The aim was to learn how the cohorts were coping in these difficult times, specially where their livelihood, nutrition, health, well-being, and education was concerned.

Out of work

The first survey spanning June and July is out with its key findings and amongst them the most devastating is the impact of the pandemic on livelihoods of informal workers or self-employed. Of households who had working members, 72 per cent had at least one household member who lost her/his job to the crisis; 60 per cent had at least one family member who was either suspended without payment or had faced a salary cut and 54 per cent had at least one member who lost their entire income or a part of their income from their own enterprise.

Commenting on the larger picture, the survey report says: “The economic impact of COVID-19 is considerable. Despite the Ministry of Labour and Employment advising employers to not lay off or reduce the wages of the employees, the workforce shrank by 122 million in April 2020. Sadly, this picture is confirmed in the Young Lives data.”

Interestingly, the survey revealed that male respondents in rural areas were hit more severely by the crisis than women; but in urban centres it was women who felt the pressure given that they are more likely to be active in the labour market than their counterparts in villages. A relatively small proportion (28 per cent) of 25-year-old women workers living in urban areas were able to work from home during the outbreak. Possibly, this is due to the availability of better infrastructure, like the internet, and the nature of the work activities performed.

Food, too, has been an issue for some of the households, especially those who were found to be food insecure in an earlier survey in 2016. Around 35 per cent of these families ran out of food during the crisis compared to 16 per cent of the overall sample. The report points out that this happened though the households received free food or food at subsidised rates from the government.

Digital divide

Education was a casualty as well, with e-learning an option for very few. Sadly, 66 per cent of the 18-year-old cohorts had to interrupt their studies, while 27 per cent of those who were planning to enrol chose not to do so. “There exists a huge digital divide that continues to exclude vulnerable populations of students particularly in rural areas and with poorly educated parents,” says the report.

The divide is also visible in the ability to isolate during such a pandemic. During the lockdown, only 7 per cent of the sample did not leave the house at all. Basic needs and work nudged the respondents out of their homes.

This is something that is happening in the larger population as well today, with a grim prognosis as the Covid-19 graph climbs at an alarming rate.

Published on August 21, 2020

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