The plight of migrants leaving the cities has been visible on streets all over India. Now, a new study has looked what is happening to poor, non-migrant urban workers.
The study, a working paper by researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of British Columbia, covered 1,392 individuals in Delhi, in slums and unauthorised colonies, and found 9 out of 10 people reporting that their weekly incomes had fallen to zero.
The study, conducted over seven weeks of the lockdown, found that intra-city movement, mapped using Facebook mobility data, dropped by 80%, immediately after the first lockdown was announced on March 24. It arrived at three broad conclusions. First, the lockdown resulted in significant economic costs, with income falling by 57% and days worked falling 73%. Second, the lockdown resulted in “widespread compliance with public health directives: mask usage rose by 73 percentage points (pp); time spent indoors increased by 51 pp; smoking decreased by 13 pp; and hand-washing rose by 10 pp.” Third, the economic impacts of the lockdown were somewhat mitigated by government food assistance, but about 64% of the sample could not access these.
“Even for non-migrant workers in Delhi, the lockdown has been devastating economically. But it also brought about a massive change in behaviour. People started wearing masks more, they stayed indoors and socialised less, they washed their hands more regularly, there were even fewer reports of smoking. These habits are crucial for limiting the spread and the health impacts of the virus,” said Dr Ken Lee, Executive Director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago in India (EPIC India) and the lead author of the study. But, the researchers added, “concerns remain about mental health, supply chains, and personal savings, against the backdrop of a rising infection rate. Moreover, it remains to be seen whether public health compliance will persist, as the novelty, fear, and media coverage of COVID-19 subside”.
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The study observes that “there are relatively high rates of mental and emotional well-being problems, ongoing challenges in food supply chains, in terms of higher prices and lower quantities, and dwindling levels of reported savings”.