Perspective: Covid 19 Crisis and its Impact on the Urban Poor

As the country goes into a complete lockdown, the severely impacted are the urban poor especially Informal-Sector workers and the Homeless. They are in dire situations as they are not able to work during this time and have nowhere else to go.

The informal workers in India constitute as many as 90% of the total workforce of the cities. Many workers such as construction workers and street vendors work at informal sites of work – by the road, on construction sites, at dump sites, and live hand to mouth. No work for them means no food at the end of the day.

There are 1 million urban homeless as per the last census. Most of our big cities have a huge number of homeless who remain invisible and sleep in deplorable conditions in the open exposed to the elements. Even though we have homeless shelters in some cities, they are ill-equipped and with less capacity to handle all the numbers. Homeless are also left out of any benefits and schemes as many do not even have any identification documents to claim their rights.

It is in this context that the corona epidemic put the homeless and informal workers, who are mostly casual labour workers under twin risks. Risk of the livelihoods wiped out and exposure to virus infection. Most of the policy measures that urged all of us to “Work from Home” is not an option for the workers or the homeless who do not have homes. Neither is social distancing and self-isolation possible in the informal settlements that a good majority live in; or how can they “Stay safe, Stay Home” in their daily struggle of hand to mouth existence. Many such communities – homeless individuals and families, often with small children and people with disabilities, who used to work and earn their food are having to go hungry and are in not in a position to defend them against the pandemic.

Looking at the present situation, with the lockdown extended till 14th April, the informal sector workers stare at the terrible situation of being in their homes and whilst having to fend for their families. We have already heard them walking hundreds of kilometres with small kids to go back to their village. There are a host of positive measures taken by the central government and the different state governments, yet we still have communities that fall through the financial and social protection nets. Many NGOs, CSRs and individuals are also trying to support the Government in rolling out and supplementing the relief measure.

Only one thing can help the urban poor to survive this crisis and that is immediate relief. They need food and safe shelter today to survive and any delay will push them deeper into the crisis.

Contributed by:

Aravind Unni

Thematic Lead – Urban Poverty Reduction

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