India’s second wave that didn’t see a national lockdown like in the first failed to significantly alleviate economic distress and hunger among the poor, according to a survey of 6,500 respondents in 14 States.
The survey, Hunger Watch–2, was commissioned by the Right To Food Campaign and The Centre for Equity Studies from December–2021 to January 2022 to evaluate economic distress following the second wave. The same organisations had conducted a similar survey, Hunger Watch–1, in October-December 2020 to measure the fallout of the first wave.
66% of the respondents to the second survey said their income had decreased as compared to pre–pandemic period. This proportion was larger among urban households, among households earning less than ₹3,000 per month and among Muslim households. Only 34% of the overall sample reported that their household’s cereal consumption in the month preceding the survey was ‘sufficient’ and 79% of the households surveyed reported some form of food insecurity.
Food insecurity is worse among urban households. 87% of Muslim households reported some form of food insecurity compared to 77% Hindu households, the report noted.
The first survey had reported similar numbers suggesting that the absence of a national lockdown didn’t automatically improve the odds of the poorest accessing adequate work and nutrition. Over two thirds of the respondents, for instance, reported that in October 2020, the quantity of food they were able to consume was less than what it was before the lockdown. Seven out of 10 respondents reported a worsening nutritional quality of diets.
In 2020 too, the survey found, those belonging to socially vulnerable groups such as Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims as well as households with single women, aged, disabled were worse off. These households reported higher decline in consumption of food.
Only half of those interviewed ate eggs, milk, fresh foods and fruits less than 2–3 times a month. More than 25% ate dark, green, leafy vegetables and pulses fewer than three times a month whereas 41% reported that the nutritional quality of their diet had deteriorated compared to pre-pandemic levels. This proportion was higher among the urban than the rural households.
‘PDS is providing relief’
The PDS is providing relief, the report underscored. While 84% of the households had a ration card, over 90% of those who were eligible said they received some food grains. However, other schemes weren’t effective. A quarter of households with eligible members said they could not avail the Mid–Day Meal Scheme or the Integrated Child Development Services provisions.
For both surveys, more than 70% of those interviewed were from rural India. While 64% were Hindu, 18% were Muslim and 71% of the respondents were women. Both male and female working members reported spending approximately 18 days working in the month prior to the survey.
Non-agricultural casual labour was a prominent source of employment in rural and urban areas. 18% of all households reported that a child that was in school before the pandemic had dropped out.