April 14, 2021 1:16:11 am
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions that followed has resulted in half of India’s poor people being deprived of nutritious food. In its 2021 Global Food Policy Report, the International Food Policy Research Institute has warned of severe and long lasting consequences due to the contraction in diet quality.
India was one of the first countries to implement a complete lockdown when cases and deaths due to the pandemic were relatively low. The lockdown, the report said, caught policymakers off guard as evident by the large number of migrants who took to the roads to reach their home states – this, the report said, had led to a surge in infections across the country.
Temporary and migrant workers were worst hit by the pandemic as the lockdown brought with it job loss. The lack of a social safety net resulted in misery for workers, many of whom were suddenly left without means of transport. Women were at the receiving end of the restrictions with the report pointing out how 50 per cent of households surveyed reported that women were spending more time in cooking or fetching firewood than before.
The lockdown and restrictions on movement had brought about a change in how people purchased food. While e-food services saw a 66.7 per cent year-on-year growth, convenience stores stores had seen a dip of 9.8 per cent in their business. Single unit grocery shops had seen a modest growth of 1.3 per cent last year. Like other parts of the world, there has been a shift towards sugar and calorie rich food. Drop in income has led to a gradual shift away from consumption of relatively expensive fresh and nutritious animal-sourced foods and fruits and vegetables.
Majority of children had suffered from a lack of schooling due to the lockdown. “Lockdowns shuttered schools and day-care centres, which provide critical meals and supplementary nutrition to hundreds of millions of young children. India’s Mid-Day Meal programme covers 80 per cent of primary-school-aged children in the country, improving not only nutrition but also learning outcomes and gender equity. The country’s school closures likely exacerbated food insecurity and malnutrition, especially for girls and disadvantaged populations,” the report said
Recent studies showed that government intervention in terms of food and cash transfer has helped in mitigating some of these problems. In particular, the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana has been timely and effective. “Similarly, surveys by IFPRI and national partners in seven Indian states indicate that disrupted health services have been restored and are adapting to the new challenges. One of the key conclusions of the study is that India’s rapid policy actions and effective coordination across national, state, and local institutions helped buffer the initial shocks to health and nutrition programmes. This success reflects India’s decades of investments in social-safety-net infrastructure, particularly recent investments in direct and cash benefit transfers,” the report read.
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