IGSSS being a developmental organization has always reached out to the people affected and impacted by disaster with a humanitarian objective. COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge for IGSSS like any other humanitarian organization. India is already affected by the first wave and second wave of the COVID 19 pandemic. IGSSS reached out to the people with relief responses during both waves. Today I write to share the learnings of IGSSS from these responses.

As the complete and strict lockdown was imposed in India suddenly (overnight), the pandora box of hunger, fear and anxiety broke loose among poor and marginalized communities of Indian cities and villages. We saw a large number of migrant workers (men, women, and children) walking on the streets of India moving out of cities and travelling to their villages. It seemed like reverse migration happening. Many people in cities and villages were suddenly homeless, with no food to eat and no mask to protect themselves from the virus. COVID-19 has intensified hunger and poverty in India.

IGSSS’ emergency response

The crisis made IGSSS reflect the importance of putting relief directly into the hands of vulnerable people. Hence, IGSSS (during the first wave) immediately got down with its numerous NGO partners in providing food and sanitation kits to around 60 thousand + households residing in 13 states. IGSSS also distributed 58,000 masks and 22,000 sanitisers. Along with these relief items, IGSSS also organized 18 bus trips for migrant workers to help them reach their hometowns. It was very clear that the solutions must address both immediate food insecurity and provide livelihood opportunities to break the cycle of hunger and poverty. Hence IGSSS supported street vendors, small and marginalized farmers, migrant workers (who returned to their villages) to start their livelihood which was badly affected and impacted due to complete lockdown. COVID-19 has proven to be not only a health crisis but also a livelihood crisis – quickly turning into a hunger and malnutrition catastrophe. IGSSS intervention of organizing the community members into women groups and farmers groups paid huge dividends in making the community first relief responders to the affected and impacted people. Promotion of nutrition garden at household level by IGSSS pre-Pandemic supported many families to eat nutritious food during the lockdown. Hence IGSSS feels that how in future our development projects should be framed keeping such pandemic in mind. The pandemic has led to an increase in global food insecurity, affecting vulnerable households in almost every country. It has exacerbated existing inequalities, pushing millions of people into the vicious cycles of economic stagnation, loss of livelihood and worsening food insecurity. IGSSS also did several rapid assessments to understand the impact of COVID 19 followed by lockdown on migrant workers, domestic workers, and single women. This type of rapid assessment helped us to understand the need of the people and act quickly for their relief.

Learnings and planning

One of the major learnings for IGSSS was to use different online/virtual platforms to disseminate useful information to the community people remotely. Despite the presence of the digital divide, the virtual platform was a useful means to reach out to people when physical reach out was impossible.  

The major focus of IGSSS during the second wave was addressing hunger by providing food kits to poor and needy people. But the learning for IGSSS was how to coordinate with district administration in strengthening the village health frontline workers and services. In few places like in Maharashtra, Odisha, and Assam we provided Oxygen Concentrators for rural public health centres. One of the major learning during the second wave is how to make our awareness programme more effective so that people are motivated and go for vaccination.

As future strategic planning for IGSSS, we need to relook into our programme development. Like gender mainstreaming, we also need to plan out our interventions in such a way that the pandemic needs are mainstreamed. We need to focus on strengthening alternative livelihood, linking nutrition and immunity with developmental works, and facilitating community participation in strengthening rural health systems and services through public-community-private partnerships.

Contributed by: Anthony Chettri