COVID-19 Pandemic: Oxfam India is Responding

COVID-19 Pandemic: Oxfam India is Responding

With over 5.40 million confirmed cases and over 3.49 lakh deaths worldwide, the COVID-19 is impacting lives in ways that the world hadn’t fathomed, not for nearly a century. The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19, a pandemic on March 11, 2020. In India, over 1.51 lakh people are infected with the Novel Coronavirus and over 4000 have died. These numbers are increasing with every passing day. We are towards the end of the 4th phase of the lockdown, which was an essential step to flatten the curve. Though the peak is yet to come in the next few months.

However, what the lockdown did was to render millions of migrant workers jobless, without money, without food and without any transportation to return home. News channel and social media platforms are flooded with photos and videos of million of migrant workers walking home, women and children included. This is a blatant human rights violation.    

In the last two months, we have reached out to 14 states to about 1.53 lakh people with dry ration and distributed about 59,000 packets of cooked meal; made Unconditional Cash Transfers (UCT) of Rs 12.30 lakh to 246 families; distributed 3710 safety kits and 2860 PPE kits to hospitals, frontline health workers, district administrations, our communities and volunteers.    

Why we need to respond

The lockdown was important to flatten the curve but it had disastrous impact on lakhs of migrant workers in the country. They were left to fend for themselves after factories shut down and they had no money left to pay their rents or buy food. With no means to travel, with trains and bus services coming to a grinding halt, the desperate workers began their arduous journey back home on foot. 

The lockdown has affected migrant workers and daily wage earners the most; informal workers constitute 90% of our Indian workforce. And while the Coronavirus doesn’t discriminate, the worst impact will be on these lakhs of workers who come from some of the most marginalised communities and are most vulnerable in this pandemic. The lockdown means they will have to go without wages; they depend on daily wages to meet their everyday basic requirement—food, medicines and even water. This will push them further into poverty.

Lack of access to free and quality healthcare means that they do not have access to medical care if and when they are diagnosed with COVID-19. India ranks 145th among 190 countries in terms of quality and accessibility of healthcare. 

While there is no specific drug for the disease, isolation and maintaining personal hygiene (washing hands regularly with soap and water or using a sanitiser) is recommended to be the best prevention and solution at the moment. But this is a difficult ask for many. Over 70 million in urban India live in informal settlements where they end up sharing resources and have community access to sanitation and drinking water facilities. There are 4 million homeless in urban India who are at greater risk of the infection due to their living condition. For all of these marginalised and vulnerable communities having access to isolation, and protective measures like sanitisers, gloves, masks, soap, and most importantly water is a luxury.

The pandemic has laid bare our poor healthcare services. Oxfam India is advocating for free and quality healthcare for all. We are advocating with the government to increase the spending on healthcare so as to ensure that we are better equipped to handle such pandemics in the future. We released a Charter of Demands and reached out to the Prime Minister through an open letter.  

We can do much more with your support. Oxfam India is a movement of people working to end discrimination and create a free and just society. And you can join our movement to fight COVID-19 so that no one is left behind and discriminated against. 

How are we responding

Oxfam has been working in India since 1951 and has responded to numerous humanitarian disasters ”natural and man made” but the COVID-19 pandemic is a first. Oxfam India is on the ground reaching out to the most marginalised, especially the stranded migrant workers in cities and the workers who have reached home with no source of income and a bleak future. We are also reaching out to the homeless, beggars and the rag pickers who are at the lowest in the pecking order and have no access to ration or any social security schemes. 

We have extended our work on different national and state highways to reach out to migrant workers who are returning to their villages and towns on foot as part of Project Pathik.

Dry Ration: 30476 households have been supported with dry food ration in Maharashtra, Delhi, UP, Bihar, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Assam, Telangana, Karnataka and Kerala. This will take care of the food requirement of over 152,380 people.

This includes 326 dry food ration kits distributed among cancer patients in Delhi & 200 among leprosy patients in the West Bengal’s Bankura district. Kits were also distributed among the members of the transgender community in Bangalore. Dry ration was provided to run 'dignity kitchens’ in Ahmedabad. These kitchens run by the migrant workers themselves will take care of the food requirements of 1500 stranded labourers.

Dry ration is distributed among the poorest households — those who rely on daily wages and do not have any money or food since the lockdown. These include brick kiln workers in Patna and Puri, tea garden workers in West Bengal, homeless in Chennai, and migrant workers in Raipur. Focus is on those workers who do not have access to PDS ration, especially in Bihar.

These kits include rice, flour, pulses, salt, some spices such as haldi & chilli powder, edible oil, sugar, tea, soybean. These kits vary according to the cultural context of the different states. For instance, the kit in Delhi includes Rajma instead of Soybean. Similarly, the dry ration kits in Karnataka’s Tumkur district contain Ragi, a staple millet in Karnataka. The idea is to also ensure that the nutritional requirements — carbohydrate, fat, protein — of the families are met. The kit serves a family of five for two meals a day for a period of 30 days.

Cooked Meals: 59090 packets of ready to eat cooked meals have been distributed in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Gujarat and Maharashtra. This includes the 6735 meals distributed under the new project Pathik - which caters to the needs of the migrant workers returning home on cycles, foot, in trucks, trailers and buses. This was distributed on National Highways in Delhi, UP, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Bihar, and Odisha-AP border   

The hot cooked meals were served to the stranded migrant workers, informal sector workers who lost their jobs, beggars, and the homeless. Virat Kohli’s one8 Commune (restaurant) collaborated with Oxfam India to provide 500 packets of hot cooked meal daily in parts of Delhi.

Project Pathik: Food and hygiene kits were distributed among 1920 migrant workers returning home. This was distributed on National Highways in Delhi, UP, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Bihar, and Odisha-AP border. These kits include chiwda, sattu, biscuits, Horlicks, water, jaggery, soap, salt, Glucon-D and sanitary napkins. In Bangalore, the kit also included ragi biscuits and chikki. Gamcha was added to the Bihar kits. The Pathik Vans distributing the food and hygiene kits are equipped with first aid kits in case of a medical emergency.    

Unconditional Cash Transfers: Rs 5000 have been transferred to 246 households in Bihar, Assam and Tamil Nadu. The criteria for the UCT is that they are the most marginalised, single women or women led households, and persons with disabilities. In Tamil Nadu, unconditional cash transfers were made to families of 62 manual scavengers in Chennai. In Bihar, the focus is on single, widowed women and women-led households.

Safety Kits & PPE Kits: 3710 safety kits have been distributed in states like Kerala, Maharashtra, Bihar, Odisha, Assam, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, for frontline workers including doctors, nurses, hospital staff, police stations and other support staff. 2860 PPE kits to government hospitals and state health departments in Bihar, UP, Maharashtra, Haryana, Delhi, Kerala and Karnataka. 200 of the PPE kits distributed were given to the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases, Bangalore.

Mass Awareness: Over 5 million people have been reached through awareness generation messages on COVID-19 by using various innovative communication mediums such as mobile vans, miking from public places such as temples and mosques. These have been well appreciated by respective state governments. Mobile van awareness campaign in UP and Bihar carried out through miking and announcements. In UP, this was done in Gorakhpur, Bahraich and Lucknow. And there is request by the state government to go to other districts in UP.

8187 volunteers have been added to the WG-CAN platform for the dissemination of COVID-19 related information; 74486 messages across the country using the WG-CAN platform (software/website). Alternative messaging systems such as Microware software has been pilot-tested in Uttar Pradesh and Assam for mass messaging of preventive efforts. In UP, the use of a tele texting software for awareness generation is being actioned in collaboration with the UPSDMA. Lucknow University has been brought onboard as a strategic partner for awareness generation through tele texting. At present, the messages are directly shared with over 600 volunteers across Uttar Pradesh.

Working with Government and other NGOs: Oxfam India has signed an MOU with the Jharkhand State government to work together to track migrants and link them up with support systems and aids. OIN is also working with the state to create a dashboard to track migrant workers.

Uttar Pradesh State Disaster Management Authority (UPSDMA) has formed a Task Force on COVID-19. Oxfam India has been nominated to this Task Force, and we are providing advice and support to UPSDMA and seeking necessary support for effective actions by CSOs as necessary.

Training and Orientation: More than 300 Oxfam staff, partner staff and volunteers from Assam, Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra have been provided orientation on COVID-19 focusing on self-protection and protection of others.

Several staff and volunteers from partner organisations have been trained on COVID-19 and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) response; on Gender, Social Protection and EFSVL (Emergency Food Security and Vulnerable Livelihoods) in the COVID-19 context; on community engagement and risk communication.

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