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Pandemic impact: 66% Indians report drop in income, 80% suffer from food insecurity

By Rajiv Shah 

Two years into the pandemic, 66% of the respondents to a representative survey have said that their income decreased as compared to pre-pandemic period, and just about 34% reported that their households' cereal consumption in the month preceding the survey was sufficient. In all the survey covered 6,697 respondents from 14 states, 4,881 rural and 1,816 urban.
The survey, referred to as Hunger Watch-II, carried out by the advocacy group Right to Food Campaign in association with the Centre for Equity Studies, was conducted in December 2021-January 2022. The Hunger Watch-I survey was done following the national lockdown in 2020.
About 31% of the Hunger Watch-II surveyed households were STs, 25% were SCs, 19% belonged to the general category, 15% OBCs and 6% were Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). About 64% identified themselves as Hindus, 18% as Muslims.
Further, 71% of the respondents were women, 41% were non-agricultural casual labourers, 19% were agricultural casual labourers, 11% cultivators and 18% regular salaried informal workers. Further, 6% of the respondents were unemployed, and 70% of the respondents reported household income of less than Rs 7,000 per month.
Aimed at documenting the hunger situation six months after the devastating second wave of Covid-19 in India, the Hunger Watch-II survey report also found that 79% of the households surveyed reported some form of food insecurity, and an "alarmingly high" 25% reported severe food insecurity. Further, 41% of households reported that the nutritional quality of their diet had deteriorated compared to pre-pandemic levels.
As for access to government programmes, the report said, while 90% of those who had any ration card said they received some food grains, though emphasising, a quarter of households said that they did not receive Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) or Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) provisions for children.
This, even as one in six households reported that their children had dropped out of school, and as many households also reported that their children had entered the workforce.
The report said, of the 66% of respondents who said that their income had decreased as compared to prepandemic period, close to 60% said their current income was less than half what it had been before the pandemic. It added, close to 45% of the households had some outstanding debt, and of these, 21% said their total debt was more than Rs 50,000.
Giving details of "high incidence of food insecurity", the report said, close to 80% of the sample reported some form of food insecurity in the month preceding the survey, with 31% reporting mild food insecurity, 23% moderate, and a staggering 25% reporting severe.
According to the report, "More than 60% were worried about not having enough food, were unable to eat healthy or nutritious food, or could eat only a few kinds of foods in the month preceding the survey."
More than 60% were worried about not having enough food, were unable to eat healthy or nutritious food, or could eat only a few kinds of food
It added, "About 45% reported that their household ran out of food in the month preceding the survey", and "close to a third of the respondents reported that they or someone in their household had to skip a meal or sleep without eating in the month preceding the survey."
As for overall decline in nutritional quality and quantity, the report said, "Only 34% reported that their consumption of cereals in the last month was sufficient", adding, "A large proportion of households reported that they had eaten nutritious foods fewer than 2-3 times a month". Thus, 28% households reported having eaten pulses, 28% dark green leafy vegetables, 50% milk or eggs, 55% flesh foods, and 58% fruits for less than 2-3 times a month.
Further, the report said, more than one-third of the respondents perceived that their food situation would remain the same or get worse in the next three months, adding, 67% could not afford cooking gas in the month preceding the survey.
Coming to the health impacts of Covid-19, report said, 3% reported that "someone in the household died of Covid-19", though "fewer than 45% of those reported receiving any death compensation." It added, "23% of the households incurred a major health expenditure." Of these, 13% incurred an expenditure of more than Rs 50,000 and 35% of more than Rs 10,000, 32% reported that a member stopped working or lost wages due the disease.
The report commented, "Malnutrition and food insecurity in India are very high. The recent round of National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) shows that improvements in malnutrition have slowed down since 2015 (NFHS-4)."
Before 2015, it added, "Some progress had been made on this front with the universalisation of school meals and supplementary nutrition through ICDS and the expansion of the Public Distribution System (PDS)", which was further strengthened with the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, which guarantees 5 kilos of cereals per person per month at highly subsidized prices to 67% of the population."
It regretted, "The budget for ICDS has seen a 38% cut in real terms in 2022-23 compared to 2014-15 and the meal MDMS has seen nearly 50% reduction in real terms."

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