The second wave of Covid-19 infections will likely pose a greater risk to the poor. Rural areas may face severe devastation as they have poor healthcare and hence will require closer examination and urgent policy attention. India has consistently ranked poorly in all international rankings on hunger (ranking 102 among 117 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2019). Surveys show among the poor and the marginalized, the quantity of food they consumed either ‘decreased’ or ‘decreased a lot’ compared to before the Covid. Households reported cutting down on nutritious food such as milk, vegetables, pulses and oil. The poorer, socially marginalised Dalits, and those with lesser access to food security schemes (such as migrants) faced more severe food insecurity. A large number of households reported no or lower levels of income. Households were also seeking loans for food, an indicator of the debilitating food and financial insecurities that poor households continue to face. Migrants who have travelled to cities only months ago are again travelling back to their villages. There was limited support for migrants even in existing social protection schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). These reductions will undoubtedly further accelerate the impending effects on children’s nutrition, as highlighted in the National Family Health Survey or NFHS-V (2019-20) and the Global Food Policy Report, 2021. The loss in nutrition may have come as a consequence of people losing their jobs and/or being pushed into lower income brackets over time. This indicates that households have not had a chance to rebuild, and with many completely exhausting their savings and facing massive debt, they are bound to be more severely hit than the first wave. In the face of such a threat, including high unemployment that is steadily rising again, the state must ensure immediate, sustained action. The government will provide 5 kilogram of free food grains to millions of poor who are covered under the National Food Security Act, 2013, “due to economic disruptions caused by the Covid-19 outbreak in the country” for the months of May and June under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana. Prime Minister stressed that it is important that the poor of the country have nutritional support when the country is facing the second wave of coronavirus pandemic. Experts suggest the program should be further extended to six months because job recoveries will take time. The government needs to expand the current offering to include nutritious foods like pulses; address issues faced in existing schemes such as MGNREGA (like delays in wages and rationing); and new schemes such as a potential urban employment scheme should be explored.
Social protection mechanisms for the poorest and most vulnerable people during and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis need to be employed that incorporate provisions on the Right to Food, both in terms of quantity and nutritional quality.For migrants stuck in cities without work, community kitchens (such as Amma canteens) are required. There is a recipe for vaccine inequity(demand supply mismatch). This is because the vaccine has been expanded to cover a larger population in India. The largest supplier, SII, gave two explanations for its inability to meet its commitments. The first was that the United States Government had used a Cold War piece of legislation, the Defence Production Act. The Defence Production Act gives the power to control the distribution of products, to curb the export of raw materials critical for vaccine production. The raw materials affected by the US curbs include reagents, plastic tubing material, nano-filters and bioreactor bags, and the steps taken by the Biden administration ensure that American manufacturers get priority for these items. In November 2020, American pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc. cut short its vaccine production target by half, citing a shortage of raw material. Pfizer, which is producing mRNA Covid-19 vaccines, had earlier planned to roll out over 1.2 billion shots in 2021 but reduced the target by half due to raw material shortage in the United States and Europe. The revised target was a major hindrance to Biden’s poll promise of administering 100 million vaccination shots in his first 100 days in office. The US government has purchased 600 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from both Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., which will be delivered in regular increments through the end of July 2021. In order to accelerate vaccine production, the Biden administration decided to invoke the Defence Production Act for the short term. The United States has now clarified it would immediately provide raw materials required to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines, ventilators, and personal protective equipment to help India battle the second wave of the infection. Second, the company complained that it lacked the financial capacity to expand its production, requesting a grant of ₹30 billion from the government. It is seeking the money to ramp up monthly production to more than 100 million doses by the end of May.
( The author is a freelancer from Raiyar Doodhpathri and writes regularly on current affairs. Views are his own)