Fostering rural livelihoods post COVID

Must have protocols for timely action and outreach in times of need (Image: DMD, Government of Bihar)
Must have protocols for timely action and outreach in times of need (Image: DMD, Government of Bihar)

As per a new study conducted by the Indian School of Development Management (ISDM) and IIMPACT, an NGO loss of income and livelihood are among the top concerns for rural communities struggling to cope with the effects of the COVID 19 pandemic.

The study is based on a survey conducted in over 4800 households in 942 villages in 31 districts across the ten states of Rajasthan, Haryana, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, and Jharkhand.

The study indicates that the availability of food and drinking water, impact on children's education, and availability of medicines are major concerns in rural India.

Impact of COVID

''While only 17% could retain their job or primary source of income during the lockdown, 96% of households surveyed have not been able to build resilience for sustenance beyond 4 months. Close to 36% of households were expected to permanently lose their primary source of income given the challenges thrown up by COVID-19. Out of every 10 households, 4 households were unable to sustain themselves even for a month without external support,” as per the study.

“At least 15% of the households identified reverse migration as one of the key issues likely to disrupt the socio-economic fabric,'' the study said. Respondents also reported child marriage, domestic abuse, theft/ robbery, elopement, and trafficking as some of the issues on the rise in recent times.

Nearly 92% of the labourers have a primary dependency on Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) for assured income. One of the key observations drawn from the survey is that even as schemes like the MGNREGA have ensured income for the working labour, lack of employment opportunities for those who have completed higher secondary as well as a college education has meant that a sizeable population in the area remains dependent on daily-wage labour jobs offered under the scheme.

This report attempts to develop an informed understanding of the support provisioned by the government and other actors proactively engaging in relief services.

Relief measures and outreach

“While 21% of households surveyed report not having received any support or relief materials from the government, only 7% of households reported receiving hygiene kits. Only 19% of the households have received additional benefits in the form of ration under the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY). 1 in 2 people reported not having received the financial assistance promised to them and 1 in 4 were not sure about their ability to sustain if the lockdown was to be extended,” as per the study.

Awareness and access to public healthcare

“53% households reported the availability of a doctor within 0-2 km distance of their homes. More than 68% reported travelling on foot or by bicycle to consult a doctor. 57% of households reported consulting an allopathic doctor either at the primary healthcare centre (39%) or private clinics (29%) for medical ailments,” the study said.

As per the study “Only 1 in 20 people had received COVID-19 related information from the government. Awareness regarding physical distancing and handwashing was high across all demographic groups in May-June 2020. Only 29% of the households were aware of what to do when someone shows symptoms of COVID-19 and 44% of these household members had knowledge of COVID-19 symptoms.

Study recommendations

The study has recommended policy instruments be designed that address challenges associated with increased informalisation and precarity of jobs across skill categories in rural India. It has also said that there is a need to revisit the universal employment guarantee scheme to account for variable skill levels and capabilities of the rural population given the current context of education and skill development initiatives.

There is a need to establish and nurture partnerships with relevant stakeholders such that education programmes can be combined with livelihood initiatives that either build an entrepreneurial model for such community champions or pave the way for community engagement with contextually relevant existing and new health and livelihood initiatives.

There is a need to build strengthened monitoring and evaluation systems that enable rapid information capture and response on emerging issues from the community. Live data on village level conditions can be relayed through civil society organization partners and community representatives with a presence on the ground, using technological solutions and live dashboards for garnering networked support addressing emerging needs of communities in the post-lockdown period.

The research findings identify the need for engaging in further research on specific domains, particularly on the link between education, employment, and job precarity. Research and empirical evidence on these will be critical for developing future strategies of civil society organisations working in these domains in the post-COVID-19 reconstruction period.

Funders need to invest in the design and development of knowledge infrastructure for service provider organizations and their partners to effectively engage in strategies of accomplishing short-term and medium-term goals that are in alignment with long-term visions of transformation at scale.

There is a need to recognise and celebrate models of excellence at all levels of civil society engagement towards incubating holistic strategies of integrated development while recognising the need for collaborations across domains, sectors, and issues.

It is important to nurture organisational capacities to invest in technology-enabled systems and processes that foster agility and innovation in design strategies through knowledge sharing, measurement of appropriate and integrated metrics, collaborative designs for on-ground action across thematic areas like education, employment and building community resilience through health infrastructure and awareness.

Ecosystem enablers can help in the creation of knowledge resources. They can support service provider organisations to develop and co-create timely and contextually relevant knowledge collaterals and relevant platforms that can feed into the active work of the service providers.

Funders can invest in building infrastructure for collaborative on-ground action with civil society actors and organisations, particularly addressing the concerns of extremely vulnerable populations in general and particular circumstances. They can enable the creation of national and state-level platforms and protocols for timely action and outreach in times of need through models that build on the existing strength of communities and rural infrastructure.

Through an enabling regulatory environment, civil society organisations can be encouraged to undertake innovative approaches towards building community resilience and long-term effectiveness of change strategies.

The study can be accessed here

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